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A vertical tasting of Beekeeper Rockpile Zinfandel



Beekeeper Cellars started in 2009, a partnership between Ian Blackburn and Clay Mauritson. Mauritson owns the Madrone Spring Vineyard and was a principle in creating the Rockpile AVA, in 2002, They sent me a mini-vertical of four bottles of the Zinfandel, 2010-2013. I must say how wonderfully each of them shows off the terroir of the vineyard. These are big, voluptuous, heady Zinfandels, and they are picture-perfect exemplars of that style.

95 Beekeeper 2013 Madrone Spring Vineyard Zinfandel (Rockpile): $65. This beautiful, picture-perfect Zinfandel is ripe, dry and heady. The alcohol is quite high (15.4%), but the wine wears it well, with a slight, prickly heat to the superripe black currants, blackberry jam and black licorice. Thick, fine tannins and just-in-time acidity give it needed structure. I had never tasted a Madrone Spring Vineyard Zinfandel before, but I have reviewed several Mauritson Petite Sirahs from the vineyard, and except for an overripe ’08—a hot vintage—I came away with great respect for the grape sourcing; and, after all, Clay Mauritson co-made this wine. It really defines this intense, concentrated style of Zin. My friends at Connoisseur’s Guide gave it 97 points, and while I wouldn’t go that far, I know where they’re coming from. The fruit is complexed with dark chocolate, sage and black tea notes that grow more interesting with every sip. The wine will hold in the bottle for a long time, but there’s no reason not to drink it now.

95 Beekeeper 2010 Madrone Spring Vineyard Zinfandel (Rockpile): $65. The fruit is just starting to turn the corner, going from primary to bottle bouquet. Where the ’13 is all jam and licorice, this nearly six-year old Zinfandel tastes of dried fruits and prosciutto. It’s still vibrant and fresh, but, even with alcohol at a heady 15.4%, it feels light and lithe on its feet, an Astaire of a wine. Mid-palate, cocoa dust kicks in, sprinkled with cinnamon. The tannins are thick but so remarkably soft and silky, the wine just glides across your tongue. I have no doubt it will hold and change in interesting ways over the next 15 years, but it’s really compelling now.

94 Beekeeper 2012 Madrone Spring Vineyard Zinfandel (Rockpile): $65. There’s a succulence to this Zin that testifies to intensely ripe fruit, which of course the grapes do get in this hot, sunny appellation that rises above Dry Creek Valley. The wine brims with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and mocha, while alcohol brings a pleasantly mouth-warming quality; fine acidity provides clean balance. Thirty percent new French oak is discernible in the form of toast and vanilla bean, but it’s completely balanced with the fruit. The tannins are smooth, complex and sweet. With a briary, brambly spiciness, this really is picture-perfect Sonoma Zin. It seems to be hovering at that interesting point where the primary fruit is evolving into secondary characteristics, shifting to reveal notes of bacon fat and leather. A wonderful, complete, wholesome Zinfandel, definitely big, but never ponderous. It should hold and evolve in interesting ways over the years.

94 Beekeeper 2011 Madrone Spring Vineyard Zinfandel (Rockpile): $65. The 2011 vintage was the coolest in a long time, and we certainly haven’t seen any cool vintages since. It was the year summer never came; grapes along the far Sonoma Coast in some cases failed to ripen, or were moldy, but Rockpile is a hot inland region. So here we have a wine that, while in the Beekeeper Rockpile Zin tradition, is somewhat more structured and not as massive as the ’10, ’12 and ’13. That’s in the wine’s favor. It still has the cassis and wild black currant fruit, the briary leather, and the spices, but there’s a savory herbaceousness, like dried sage and thyme, and tangy volcanic red rock iron. The wine has power, but also elegance and control: there’s a tension within that’s delightful, in no small part due to excellent acidity. Quite a bit of French oak, too, but it’s seamless. This distinctive wine makes a case for Rockpile Zinfandel even in difficult vintages that is persuasive. I quite like it. Only 90 cases were produced.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    The wine trade can experience Beekeeper wines (and others) gratis at the “Elevating Zinfandel” trade tasting in Los Angeles on the afternoon of May 5th at République restaurant.

    Consumers can attend a paid admission tasting that night at La Brea Bakery Cafe (up the street from République restaurant):


    (“Full disclosure”: I have no financial involvement in this event. I simply know and admire many of the winery owners/winemakers who will be in attendance.)

  2. doug wilder says:

    I have followed Ian’s progress with Beekeeper from the beginning and admire what he is doing with the brand. Beautiful wines.

  3. Al Bruns says:

    Thanks, Steve. My wife and I are always on the lookout for zins we haven’t tried. I had seen the reviews on CGCW, but it took your vertical to finally motivate me to look up Beekeeper. So I signed up and ordered a couple of the 2013 Madrone Springs. Would have been more if they weren’t $65. Oh well. I imagine I will regret not getting more.

    We appreciate your daily missives. Keep up the good work.


  4. I’m so glad you enjoyed our efforts – thank you for taking the time to taste and review our wines.

    Zinfandel needs more champions and we think of our efforts as an opportunity to get recognized, to educate and reintroduce… We want to be part of the quality conversation and take extra efforts to do so.

    Our strategy: apply high standards to great hillside fruit and have a top notch winemaker to increase our chances for success & to love to drink our own wine if we fail to sell it :).

    Clay is not only a great friend, but he is an awesome Winemaker and Kudos to Emma Kudritzki Hall as she does a huge amount of the hard work in the cellar. The entire team is really firing on all cylinders and I think our best wines are ahead of us with the 2014’s.

    Our wines maybe priced ($55-$85) a little higher than some of the classic Zinfandel brands, but compared the plethora of $150+ Cabernet; we consider our wines a great value proposition for the right moment.

    “May we all have many great Zinfandel moments ahead of us!”


    … and thank you Bob Henry for also mentioning Elevating Zinfandel on May 5th – as the best in the business collect for a Zinfandel Summit… in Los Angeles.

  5. To Al Bruns–

    Steve motivates you but CGCW doesn’t? I’m old enough to be his father. :-}

    But thanks for the mention. Ian’s wines are pretty amazing.

  6. Al Bruns says:

    To Charlie Olken –
    I read both yours and Steve’s blogs faithfully, but I’m just slow to absorb, I guess. Probably because I’m old enough to be Steve’s father, too. Thanks to both of you for what has to be a labor of love.


  7. Bob Henry says:

    You’re welcome, Ian.

    Back in 2004 (?), the Rockpile vintners hosted an inaugural AVA trade tasting in Los Angeles.

    I attended, and had the pleasure of meeting one of the Mauritson family members at their exhibitor’s table. Lovely wines.

    Another standout wine that day was a Petit Verdot from Stryker.

    It evinced none of the mouth puckering astringency commonly found in other Petit Verdots. Its tannins were delightfully ripe and supple. (The only other California Petit Verdot that impressed me as much was a 1990s era limited bottling by . . . Ric Forman?)

    Backgrounder on the Rockpile AVA:

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