Back-Vintage, Old-School California:
Ravenswood Zinfandel - 1996 Dickerson & 1997 Cooke

Posted by Joe Salamone

It's rare that we get our hands on library releases of classic California wines.

Today, we're very happy to present a small parcel of Ravenswood Zinfandels, sourced directly from the winemaker's, Joel Peterson, library.

Peterson grew up in a family of scientists who caught the wine bug and passed it onto their son. While working as a medical researcher, Peterson simultaneously worked with Joseph Swan for the 1972-1976 vintages.

Swan produced some of the greatest examples of Zinfandel the world has ever seen. They were so good that it prompted Jean-Louis Chave to plant Zinfandel in Hermitage.

Peterson produced his first vintage in 1976 and used the same methods that he learned at Swan- open top redwood fermenters, hand punchdowns, leaving the wine on the skins until the cap sank, etc. One of the only departures was deciding to rely on native yeasts instead of inoculating.

We've been fortunate enough to have tasted a decent amount of old Ravenswood over the years. They're unabashedly mineral, burly, and honest. Each separate vineyard always showed an intense and distinctive personality.

When I spoke with Joel Peterson about the two wines on offer, his immediate response was that they couldn't be more different from each other. I should mention that much of the information in this offer is indebted not only to speaking with Peterson, but also to Levi Dalton's I'll Drink To That! interview with Peterson. The story of Peterson and the Ravenswood winery is pretty extraordinary. It ranges from his parents' dinner parties attended by people like Michael Broadbent, to working two jobs and not turning a profit for over a decade, and finally, to selling to the Constellation Group in 2001 and producing 800,000 cases a year.

Dickerson is a vineyard that was planted in 1920 with head trained vines, and unlike many old vineyards that are mixed planted, it's a pure Zinfandel vineyard. It's located in the Oakville section of Napa Valley on Zinfandel Lane.

The 1996 vintage was a great one for Dickerson, but a pretty crazy one for Napa. It started off cool, and then temperatures spiked with high winds. As the grapes ripened and desiccated, sugars shot up. Since Dickerson was one of Peterson's most early ripening vineyards, the grapes were brought in before the sugars really started to shoot through the roof. What resulted flaunted Dickerson's signatures - high-toned red fruits, exotic spices, mintiness, and a nervy backbone.

Cooke vineyard is as extreme as they come. It sits on white volcanic ash on the lower end of the Mayacamas range. Dynamite was used to blast into the hard ground and plant vines. It produced tiny, thick-skinned grapes and typically yielded a pitiful half-ton per acre (2 tons is considered a small yield). In the high yielding 1997 vintage, it produced a ton. The wine has a dark minerality, spicy dark cherry fruit, and a tannic grip.

I'm going to wrap this up with a warning. The quantities available are very small, and since we rarely get to offer library releases like this, we expect a quick sell out.

To order, email or call the store at (212) 980-9463.

Joe Salamone

Wine Buyer
Crush Wine & Spirits

Ravenswood Zinfandel:

1996 Dickerson & 1997 Cooke

Special 2-Pack Price: $158.90

1996 Zinfandel Dickerson

Special Bottle Price: $82.95

1997 Zinfandel Cooke

Special Bottle Price: $84.95