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WINE ENTHUSIAST Magazine - Six Producers Bringing out the Best in California Zinfandel
Robert Henson of Peachy Canyon Winery / Photo by Shelly Waldman
Robert Henson - Perfecting Paso Robles
When Doug and Nancy Beckett launched Peachy Canyon Winery with 350 cases of old-vine Zinfandel in 1988, the former San Diego teachers became Paso Robles wine country pioneers.
For more than 25 years, the pair crafted rich, jammy Zins that would become the emerging region’s hallmark style with the help of their sons, Josh and Jake, who also co-founded Chronic Cellars.
Then, in 2015, the Becketts hired Robert Henson as winemaker and shifted course. Over the past three years, Henson has explored how Zinfandel can translate the terroir of the family’s five estate vineyards.
“Picked at the right time and treated with restraint, Zinfandel shows sense of place as well as any other grape,” says Henson. “It’s more like Pinot Noir than anyone knows.”
And it is often considered more challenging than Pinot Noir in the vineyard. “A perfectly ripe cluster has raisins,” he says. “If you pick without raisins, you get a green flavor, so optimal ripeness has some raisins.”
Henson worked in restaurants in the decade following college, as he opened about 45 properties for Brinker International. He then studied winemaking at California State University, Fresno, and worked for Michael Michaud, who crafted legendary Chalone Vineyard wines before he started his namesake label.
“I didn’t realize how important an apprenticeship would be,” says Henson. It was while working for Michaud that his tastes shifted from heavy Napa Cabs and Super Tuscans to more delicate, ageworthy wines. “I unlearned everything I knew,” he says.
That more delicate approach is what Henson applies to the Peachy Canyon wines. He has helped replant many of the older vineyard blocks and even dialed back production from a peak of 100,000 cases to about 50,000.
One of his favorite projects is the D-Block, a one-acre plot of 18 heritage Zinfandel clones from across the state that the University of California, Davis, collected years ago. The grapes are picked at once and go into the same bottling. The resulting complexity, Henson says, is “because all of the clones hit these different peaks and valleys.”
It’s just one more reason to revisit this new era of Zin. And one more reason why, as Henson says, “people are remembering that they like Zinfandel again.” —M.K.
Published on December 11, 2018