Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
Six years of barrel and bottle age behind it, this single-vineyard Dry Creek offers stellar quality for the price, just what we expect from this invino favorite Zin producer.
Proprietor and winemaker Rick Hutchinson is among the best and brightest when it comes to tiny-production, single-vineyard reds from Dry Creek. Hutchinson is as dedicated as they come and fascinated with unusual, sophisticated wines that speak of their terroir.
In the example of this lovingly aged 2010 Zin, the terroir is Andrew Forchini’s tremendously well situated eponymous vineyard just north of Healdsburg. This historic vineyard has planted to vines since at least 1886, and today includes a large parcel of 100-year-old Zinfandel. Vines this ancient produce a scant supply of juice—but every drop is magic! Brimming with black cherry and sweet cordial notes, with a holiday spice kick in the midpalate leading to a brawny tannic structure. Drink this big, deep Zin with BBQ or steak au poivre.
Reasons why we love it:
The Forchini family vineyard sits on elevated bench land in the eastern portion of the Dry Creek Valley AVA. The site features well-drained soil with gravelly clay loam, and the vines planted here bathe in full sun late into the evening during the growing season.
The name of this winery is a sort of double entendre. Sure, amphora are widely recognized as western civilization’s first vessel for fermenting and storing wine. But the name Amphora is also a reference to owner and winemaker Rich Hutchison’s other great love and hobby: pottery and ceramics. Hutchison has worked with some of the Wine Country’s brightest stars including Doug Nalle and John Kongsgaard. He has also created a series of his own modern take on the ceramic Amphora, hand burnishing and pit-firing them with the same careful eye and hand as in the making of these spectacular wines.
We can’t get enough of small-production, boutique gems like the wines made at Amphora. Honing its attention on Dry Creek Valley, and a limited release of just a few wine styles each season, means Amphora focuses on quality rather than quantity, with the heart and soul of proprietor Rich Hutchison going into each and every bottle.
Vintage after vintage, Andrew Forchini delivers beautiful Zinfandel fruit from this excellent hillside vineyard, and the 2010 is a prime example. This wine greets you with appealing aromas of cherry lozenge that lead to a mouthful of deep-noted black fruit and cinnamon spice. That’s all packed onto a framework of husky tannins that bode well for the development of the wine in bottle over the next several years.
A winemaker is often seen as an artist, carefully working with nature to craft a masterpiece with each vintage. For Amphora’s owner and winemaker Rick Hutchinson, art and wine are life-and he pursues each with fervor. He says, "Vines and wines are like people. Those with good balance live longer and age more gracefully. The total wine experience (the bouquet, the mouthfeel, and the taste) should all be pleasing. Wines and people that are too extreme are begging to be misunderstood."
A native of Sonoma County, Rick first became directly involved with wine at a job on the bottling line at the Sebastiani Winery at the tender age of 20. Entering the cellar there for the first time, Rick immediately felt at home, as the aromas of fermentation and wine reminded him of the enticing scents of jams and jellies in his mother’s kitchen during the late summer canning seasons of his youth. Those are aromas he’s been immersed in ever since, and over the ensuing years Rick has continued his apprenticeship in the art and business of winemaking with some of the best talent in the business, including Doug Nalle and John Kongsgaard. Over twenty-some vintages, Rick has grown deeply familiar with the vines and various terroir of Sonoma County, especially the incredible Zinfandel and Petite Sirah of Dry Creek Valley. At the same time, a pottery class Rick joined on a whim uncovered his natural talent for working with clay. Among the projects inspired by his new avocation were a series of original amphorae (clay jars used by ancient Greeks and Romans to store wine) he painstakingly hand-burnished and pit-fired.
When the time came to follow his calling and make his own wine, Rick married both passions. His original amphorae became the icons for his fledgling winery, and continue to grace the label today. The winery began in the autumn of 1997, when Rick crushed three tons each of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and tucked the barrels into the tiny basement of an old redwood barn in a Dry Creek Valley vineyard. Word-of-mouth publicity by friends and colleagues rapidly built an enthusiastic following, and those first wines were practically sold-out before they were even bottled! Over the next several years, Rick expanded his offerings to include small lots Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah crafted from the grapes of neighboring vineyards. Excellent ratings by wine critics pushed demand for Rick’s wines, and by 2006 the “old barn” was bursting at the seams. Rick seized the opportunity to move the winery to a spacious new location about a mile across the valley, where Amphora is currently at home in a former cold-storage building in the Timber Crest complex.
Since the 2006 move, he has taken advantage of the ample (temperature-controlled) space to extend the barrel-aging program, and to slowly expand the Amphora “lineup” of wines to include small lots of many more varietals. A mineral-driven Russian River Valley Chardonnay joined the list in 2006, and remains Rick’s sole white wine. In 2008 Amphora joined a mere handful of California producers of Teroldego, (a rare northern Italian varietal), and the 2011 vintage brought small lots of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Alicante Bouschet…and that’s just a glimpse of the current offerings! While the size of the winery has changed, Rick’s winemaking philosophy remains the same: partner with hands-on farmers to nurture the best grapes from proven vineyards, and then work with that fruit to create balanced wines that reflect their varietal and vineyard.
Drink this big, deep Zin with BBQ or steak au poivre.