The companies WineLA and LearnAboutWine in Los Angeles are both synonymous for Ian Blackburn. Ian’s forte is providing wine tastings, classes and other instructive programs to further educate consumers and the trade about the virtues of wine from around the world. What is unfamiliar to many are the wines Ian produces under his Beekeeper Cellars label. Beekeeper creates some of the most outstanding Zinfandel you will ever savor.
It all started in 2008 when a close friend, Clay Mauritson, a 7th generation Sonoma grape grower came to Ian and proposed the idea that they collaborate by sourcing some Rockpile fruit from the Madrone Spring Vineyard. Thus the birth of Beekeeper began and Zinfandel was the grape of choice since the Rockpile AVA is known for this varietal.
Rockpile is located in the northwestern corner of Sonoma County. It is one of the smallest AVAs in the country. Vineyards are predominantly located on hillsides where the elevation is at least 800 feet. Known for its steep slopes, dry farming, ample sunlight, good wine exposure and lack of fog, this AVA produces smaller berries.
It is not just any Zinfandel the two would create; it is Zinfandel that truly expresses the essence of what this grape is all about. Utilizing many of the techniques that are incorporated into making high end Cabernet Sauvignon, Beekeeper strives to give Zinfandel the notoriety and longevity it deserves. Once you sample Beekeeper you will agree that these are some of the most elegant and exquisite Zinfandels.
Recently attending a vertical tasting of Beekeeper Zinfandel from the years 2009 through the newly released 2013 one got to see the depth, complexity and longevity of this wine. The tasting took place at the Kali Restaurant, a new restaurant on Melrose in Los Angeles.
Starting with the 2009 Rockpile Zinfandel one finds the wine is very together. It is a softer and very elegant Zinfandel that exudes flavors of ripe plum. It is the ultimate expression of what Ian Blackburn’s interpretation of Zinfandel.
For Ian the 2010 Rockpile Zinfandel was the hardest to produce. That year had a spike in heat that reduced the amount of grapes by one half. This wine is more perfumed than the 2009. One smells violets. This is a richer, bolder wine with a leaning towards blue fruits and pepper.
Going from a hot year to one of the coldest and wettest, the 2011 Rockpile is probably the most like a Pinot Noir except that it exhibits more peppery qualities. The cherry and plum flavors expound in this wine.
The 2012 Rockpile is a complex rich wine with flavors of white pepper, cherry and dark spices.
In 2012 Ian expanded his horizons by utilizing grapes from a 2nd vineyard, Black Sears, which is on Howell Mountain in Napa. Like Rockpile this AVA is about the fog level giving the vineyards lots of sun. Although this AVA gets lots of rain, the soil tends to be dry, rocky and porous. This wine with its cherry and colas flavors was softer than the Rockpile 2012.
It was interesting to compare the Napa and Sonoma Zinfandels especially since both regions are mountainous and above the fog level. One difference is the distance from the Pacific Ocean.
The 2013 vintage is a real winner. It has the same quality as the 2009 with it richness and character. It is very fragrant with dark cherry and white and black pepper flavors. This is a wine that wows you.
What is up and coming for Beekeeper, the 2014 vintage will feature three different vineyard designated wines, Ian is adding an etched bottle label on some of the Zins and the Rockpile Zinfandel label Secret Stone instead of Madrone Spring. The later will help clarify the confusing with Madrone Vineyards.
Ian is exploring the nuances of the Zinfandel grape as well as giving this varietal a new energy. He is thereby making his impact on where Zinfandel is going in the future. Ian says, “I could not live with myself if I did not like the wine I make. I have to enjoy the process of wine making.” Tasting the Beekepper Zinfandel you with out a doubt know Ian likes and is inspired by the wine he creates.
For those who are die-hard Zinfandel fans you must try the Beekeeper Zinfandels, as they are truly the epitome of what a high quality Zinfandel should be. Beekeeper is definitely a wine to follow and keep on the radar in the coming years.