Tasting the World’s Best Zinfandels at Napa Valley’s Storybook Winery
Storybook Mountain Vineyards is one of the Napa Valley’s northernmost wineries (almost to the Sonoma County line north of the town of Calistoga). They produce some of the World’s Best Zinfandels and we were lucky enough to spend an afternoon at this Napa Valley Winery tasting wines and learning their unique story.
Note: We visited Storybook Winery in the fall of 2019. While briefly closed during the early months of the coronavirus, as of September 2020 they are taking reservations, offering outdoor wine tasting and curbside order pickup.
Most Napa wineries that produce Zinfandel – perhaps only offer one or two wines from this variety. Storybook however, is one of Napa Valley’s few wineries where Zinfandel is the core of their production.
Their estate grown Zinfandel is world class. Zinfandel enthusiasts have a variety of wines to choose from including a Zin Gris rosé (with both weight and good acidity), the very popular Mayacamas Range Zinfandel, and a proprietary dominated Zinfandel wine called Antaeus.
The Reserve Zinfandel is a compilation of only the best barrel lots. These wines are typically rich and complex and built to age. Storybook also produces an estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
Their wines are consistently top rated and have won numerous awards. Storybook Winery has been listed by Wine & Spirits as one of the top 100 wineries in the world.
Well-known wine critic Robert Parker once commented on their wine as “representing the pinnacle of wine quality in California.” Not bad.
Related: Lake Tahoe East Shore Trail
Zinfandel wine is a bold, fruit forward red that’s loved for its jammy fruit and smoky, exotic spice notes. It’s also made into a sweet rosé called White Zinfandel. Zinfandel pairs well with Moroccan and Turkish spices that embellish the wine’s cinnamon-spice subtleties. Or, try this Puglian classic, Pizza Rustica – a wafer-thin calzone stuffed with roasted onions, tomatoes, anchovies, and olives.
Within the North Coast region, the Sonoma/Napa Valley region is diverse in both soil and climate. With long, warm (rarely hot) summer days, and very cool nights, that receive cooling fog and ocean breezes. This gives wines freshness from acidity. Napa Valley has many volcanic soils and these make for rich, tannic, and smoky Zinfandel wines. Notable Zinfandel hotspots include Dry Creek, Rockpile, Alexander Valley, and the Russian River Valley.
For a deep-dive into wines, Zinfandels and a whole host of other varieties we recommend checking out one of our favorites, the Winefolly Blog.
6 Fun Facts About Zinfandels
- Zinfandel has been touted as “America’s grape,” but it actually hails from Croatia and was likely brought to the USA in the early 1800’s.
- The Italian name for the grape, Primitivo, comes from the Latin word “primativus” and the old Italian word “primaticcio,” both mean “early ripener” or “first to ripen.”
- White Zinfandel isn’t actually white at all, it’s pink! But there is a rare white mutation of the grape.
- National Zinfandel Day is the 3rd Wednesday in November (Yes, Zin pairs excellently with turkey!).
- Zinfandel is notorious for uneven ripening, so bunches have to be left on the vine to ripen fully. This leads to high sugar in the berries, which in turn makes for high alcohol wines.
- Zin berries are thin skinned, but they’re also quite small, which means less skin-to-juice ratio and therefore potentially higher tannins.
Storybrook’s Founding Story
Storybook winery has a rich history. It’s a story you can hear all about during their very informative and intimate tours. It begins with one of the three famous Napa Valley “Jacobs” who originally founded the winery in the 1880’s, Jacob Grimm, who was later joined by his brother Adam.
The other two famous Jacobs were Jacob Schramsberg and Jacob Beringer, both of whom founded well-known Napa wineries in their own right.
The Grimm’s are a family that’s been, and continues to be, involved in the wine industry dating back to 1540 (in Germany). During the 1880’s Zinfandel was one of the varieties planted on site. The first vines were planted on the property in 1883.
Construction of the historic wine cave began in 1888 by Chinese workers, all by hand of course! During Prohibition the Grimm Brothers continued the vineyard operations making medicinal and Sacramental wine (for church use). By 1940 the property and winery was no longer in operation.
Decades later, proprietors Jerry and Sigrid Seps purchased the land in 1976, replanted and built a new winery and then released their first Zinfandel in 1983 from the 1980 vintage.
Realizing that the original name of the winery, ‘The Grimm Wine Vault’ was perhaps a bit austere, Jerry and Sigrid decided to honor the original brothers in another way. They chose Storybook, a play on the German Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
Jerry left his job as a tenured college professor (European History) at California State University, Dominguez Hills, moved his family with four children to Napa from Los Angeles – and all without a background in growing grapes. Talk about taking the plunge, but admirable nonetheless.
Storybook Mountain Vineyards
Their location is somewhat unique due to their relative isolation from the floor of the Napa Valley. The site sits on the eastern hills of the northern Mayacamas mountains which separate Sonoma from Napa County.
The winery and vineyards are located far from all the traffic and tasting rooms commonly found further south in the Napa Valley. This is a quiet and peaceful part of the Napa Valley.
Historic Fire and Recovery
A mile from Helena View Johnston, Storybook owner Jerry Seps considers himself fortunate. The Tubbs Fire tore through their property in October 2017 burning the building that stored all their library vintages to the ground and also re-burning all their redwood trees leaving burn marks that will probably last another 50+ years.
Ironically, the 1964 Hanley fire burned the 100-acre property that Jerry and Sigrid Seps bought in 1973 and turned into one of the valley’s premiere wineries for zinfandel and Bordeaux red blends.
The boutique winery lost its entire library of back vintages, a loss that Seps describes as both “physical and psychological.” The night of the fire, Seps used a fire extinguisher to save the winery building. After completing some minor repairs, Storybook is hosting appointment-only tastings again in Calistoga.
Tours to the property are very educational and typically include a walk in the vineyards followed by a short tour and tasting in the old hand dug caves. These caves date from 1889 and are located directly behind the winery. These are among the oldest and largest hand dug caves in the Napa Valley.
The inside can be fairly humid; very velvety thick black mold grows on the ceilings and walls (this mold is harmless to touch). Parts of the original cave have been reinforced over the years including one section covered in gunnite but there are still plenty of the original cave walls exposed including an old brick ceiling.
Or course a winery tour would not be complete without a delicious tasting. Deep inside the cave there is a convenient tasting area along with a small shop where you can make wine purchases directly! The telling of the wine history takes on a special charm when told from within the depths of these hand carved caves.
If you’re interested in learning more about Storybook Winery you can check out their site for reservation, purchases and more. For more about wineries in the Napa Valley area, a great resource for enthusiasts is The Napa Wine Project.