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Monday, March 9, 2015

Jack Ass

Lee Martinelli Sr., on Jackass Hill
The Martinelli family has been involved with wine in Sonoma, specifically the Russian River Valley, for over a century and no, the title of this article is not a reference to them. The name refers to Jackass Hill. Planted on a ridiculous 60% slope, Jackass Hill, tucked into a narrow valley, is hardly the place you’d expect people to be farming over 100 years ago. Hell, it’s remote now, and must have been obscure back then. The three-acre, non-terraced parcel was planted to Zinfandel in 1887. Nothing much has happened here in all those years. “The only thing that has changed in 85 years is my house,” Lee Martinelli, Sr. says to me. What’s amazing is that this family farm has not changed hands. “I’m so grateful to the Martinelli and Bondi sides of my family who tended, worked and respected this land,” Lee tells me on a warm January day as we stand on Jackass Hill; Lee standing straight and tall, and me trying not to wobble and teeter. It was so named because only a jackass would farm this stupidly steep piece of dirt.

The view from the top of Jackass Hill
I have visited many vineyards across the globe, from vineyards in Crete to, Cognac, Oregon and Mexico, to Burgundy and Nova Scotia and countless vineyards in the U.S., some as historic a s this one. But very few have a palpable feeling to them, a sense of purpose and lineage. “I feel the spirit of my ancestry here,” Lee says. And I believe him. Not everyone can walk amongst the courageous and knotted vines on Jackass Hill, but you can drink the wine from them. You need to.

The 2012 Jackass Hill Zinfandel is an impressive, crazy good wine: spicy, with loads of mature blackberry, pepper, almost a sweet cedar; it’s rich, earthy and with great acidity, defying most jammy versions of this grape. It also has incredible balance and the higher alcohol comes as a surprise because you simply do not taste this. Is it pricy? Yes, but it is also unique; a one of a kind wine with only 48 cases made (less than 600 bottles), which makes it the kind of rare, historical American wine you really need to try, because, at the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, you authentically can drink history.

ORIGIN: Russian River Valley, Sonoma
PRICE: $120 / 750/ml
ALCOHOL: 17.5%

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