A s I make another U-turn in the rain and mist on a twisting mountain road, I wonder if Storybook Mountain's location is as fabled as the name suggests. At the least, the result of my attempt to Mapquest it is clearly fanciful. When I arrive, the only two other people scheduled for that afternoon are also late, and it's just as well because Storybook is not open for public tasting. By appointment, Storybook arranges informative, friendly tours led by a family member, followed by a tasting in the caves.
Jerry and Sigrid Seps purchased the abandoned property in 1976 and named it Storybook as a tribute to two brothers Grimm who founded the original vineyards in the 1880s. At a time when Sutter Home had just stumbled upon White Zinfandel and quality red Zinfandel was truly a cult wine, they followed wine legend André Tchelistcheff's advice and planted Zinfandel on the steep, northeast-facing, red-clay hillside. By the early 1980s, they were winning gold medals, and Storybook became one of the leading names of the Zin revolution.
In 1990, Seps and a few likeminded winemakers founded Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP), through which they continue to proselytize on behalf of "America's heritage grape." ZAP holds its annual meeting of thousands of acolytes at San Francisco's Fort Mason Center Jan. 23–26, so that we may be anointed with the most recent vintages. Among those will be the 2006 Heritage Vineyard Zinfandel, blended from a ZAP research vineyard that includes 90 different Zin clones. Each vintage is made by a different notable member winery—which this year brings us back to Storybook.
They'll be pouring the 2005 Napa Estate Antaeus ($40), a blend of Zinfandel with—keep it quiet—Bordeaux varietals. It turns out that Cab grows pretty well on the Seps estate, too, and the Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($65) shows a bouquet of cedar box and a rich palate of cassis and leather. The 2006 Napa Mayacamas Range Zinfandel ($30) is an exotic Zin built more of structure and spice than fruit. Oriental spices and liqueur tease the nose, while a lively balance of tannin and acidity drop on the tongue like a mountain cat before scampering away, leaving a lingering finish of mellow acidity and woodsy perfume.
It's a little funny that Storybook's label art references Aesop's fable of the fox's troubles with a certain bunch of grapes. (Seps couldn't find anything viticultural in Grimm's fairy tales.) Maybe it's a reminder that if we don't give up on finding this wine, it'll certainly be worth our while.
Storybook Mountain Vineyards, 3835 Hwy. 128, Calistoga. By appointment only. 707.942.5310.
ZAP's 17th Annual Zinfandel Festival runs Jan. 23–26, with the public tasting slated for Saturday, Jan. 26, from 2pm to 5pm. Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. $55–$65. 530.274.4900. www.zinfandel.org.