Zork and Mindy?

A look at five new wines from the Leese-Fitch label based in Sonoma, California

By Celia Strong

You might be wondering: What does the headline “Zork and Mindy” — a take off on the old Robin Williams sitcom “Mork and Mindy” — have to do with this week’s wine? Well, we can only reveal the answer after learning about the history of the winery and the winemaking methods behind our featured wine of the week. In fact, just so you know it will all be worthwhile, it’s wines, plural, this week. Yay!

Our quest to learn more about our wine takes us to California, again, to a Sonoma-based winery. And with it we get to look at two very old California wine families. First, the Vallejos. You might remember, from previous explorations of Sonoma County, how grape growing and winemaking spread up into California from Mexico. It came with Spanish missionaries as they expanded from Mexico. Highway 101, which runs south to north (and back down again) through California is also known as the Camino Rea. This was the highway they created, the original route used by the Missionaries and the soldiers who protected them.

General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was the Spanish commander of these troops. Vallejo was born in July, 1807, in Monterey, California, then a Spanish holding. With family connections, he grew up with some advantages. He was serving as the personal secretary to the Governor of California when Mexico became independent from Spain. Vallejo became a cadet at the Presidio of Monterey. In 1833, he became the Commander of the Presidio of San Francisco and was charged with overseeing the secularization of Mission San Francisco Solano and founded the town of Sonoma.

In 1835, he was appointed Comandante of the Fourth Military District Nd Director of Colonization of the Northern Frontier. This was the highest military command in Northern California. Vallejo built the Presidio of Sonoma, and moved most of the soldiers from San Francisco there to counter the Russians at Fort Ross. (Remember our looks at the Russian River Valley in Sonoma?)

On the town plaza in Sonoma, Vallejo built a two-story adobe house for himself. In the years that followed, although not all smooth, Vallejo moved family members to his new town. Sisters, two in particular, whose husbands also built an adobe on the Sonoma plaza. This second adobe has now become the home, and namesake for our wines of the week. Jacob Leese and Henry Fitch were two brothers-in-law to Vallejo and built their adobe in 1836. Leese-Fitch is the winery based out of this piece of history.

The proprietors of Leese-Fitch trace their roots to another old wine family in California. Recognize the name Sebastiani?  The Sebastianis are called the First Family of Sonoma wine. Samuele Sebastiani built a winery in Sonoma Town in 1904. He had a 500 gallon tank he had brought from Tuscany, Italy.

August Sebastiani, Samuele’s son, continued with the winery and is considered to be the first famous California winemaker. He managed the winery for decades, with a great flair for promotion, and took production to 500,000 cases a year. He also introduced liter-and-a-half bottles in 1975.

When August died, in 1904, his wife Sylvia and their children took over. The children were Sam, Don and Mary Ann, and Mary Ann’s husband, Dick Cuneo. At one point, Sylvia fired Sam for overspending and replaced him with Don.

This brings us to the makers of our wine this week — two of Don Sebastiani’s children, Auguste and Mia. A fourth generation, setting up a company called The Other Guys (TOG), moved into the Leese-Fitch adobe in Sonoma and named their wines for that building. And, we have five of their wines to look at this week.

Leese-Fitch Chardonnay is the one white wine we have. It is full of citrus aromas, like Meyer lemons and lime zest, with crisp apple acidity and apple and lemongrass flavors. There are small amounts of Chenin Blanc, for minerality and crispness, and Viognier, also for acidity and floral notes, added in. The total wine is really pleasant, easy sipping, and well matched for salads, cold suppers, seafood, shellfish, garlic sauces and more.

Leese-Fitch Cabernet Sauvignon is the first, alphabetically, of several reds from this company. Small amounts of Syrah, Tempranillo, and other grapes add depth and complexity. We get hazelnuts, espresso, cherry and black currant aromas and a long list of flavors that includes more cherries, cocoa, tea leaves, blackberries, caramel and toasted coconut. A truly delicious Cabernet that’s good with red meats, sandwiches, lamb and barbecue. Yum!

Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir is almost all Pinot. A mere one percent Merlot is added. Strawberries and violets and plums and baking spices smell wonderful and lead to even more flavors that include raspberries, cocoa powder, black cherries and toffee. This wine has enough tannins to go with meals like lamb burgers but it is also smooth enough for roast chicken, spinach fettuccine, goat cheese, and mushrooms. Yum, yum.

Leese-Fitch Merlot is all Merlot. A deep garnet color, it has aromas of blueberries, boysenberries, clove and cocoa — a very near perfect Merlot. And the flavors are the same as these aromas along with many more including baking spices such as vanilla, cardamom and mocha, cherries and plums — all rich and lush in your mouth because of the juicy texture of this wine. Pork dishes are great with this Merlot, grilled poultry and seafood too, as well as barbecue, pizza — pretty much most food.

Leese-Fitch Zinfandel comes last, only alphabetically though. This Zin has some Petit Sirah blended into it, for added body. Deeply colored, this wine swells out of your glass with black, red and blue fruit aromas, spices, pepper, cedar and more. Using Zinfandel grapes from both Lodi and Paso Robles gives this wine intense fruit flavors and good structure. The best of two worlds, or sources, I guess. It goes well with pizzas, grilled everything, lamb and spicy foods.

And, there we are. Five new wines in one week. But what is the meaning behind the “Zork and Mindy” headline?  That’s easy, once you buy one of these bottles and open it. They all have a relatively new type of closer, more like a stopper really. You peel off the spiral cut seal and the stopper is the top of it, and it pops in and out of the bottle. Open and close, as you need. And the name of this new stopper is called Zork.

Now, we can taste any and all of these wines for only $9.99 each. Enjoy.

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