Every January for the past 22 years, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (aka ZAP) has thrown a festival that showcases the versatility and diversity of the zinfandel grape. This year, the organization has reimagined its annual party, which takes place January 23 to 25. ZAP is debuting a new name (the Zinfandel Experience, rather than Zinfandel Festival), new format (the Saturday tasting is now split into three two-hour intervals, instead of one daylong event) and new location (San Francisco‘s picturesque Presidio, in place of the cold, vast Concourse center).
“We found that one huge, gigantic tasting with 7,000 people isn’t what our advocates want anymore,” says Chris Leamy, ZAP’s vice president and winemaker at Terra d’Oro Winery. “We’ve moved back to a beautiful historic place, and the events are going to be smaller. We’re limiting the number of people that can attend each tasting to 350, so as a producer, I am going to have time to talk to the advocate. It’s going to be much more intimate, and there will be more chance for a dialogue about the wine.”
What to Do
Epicuria (Jan. 23, 6 to 8:30 p.m., at the Golden Gate Club) allows zin lovers to discover the art of pairing wine with food. More than 30 top zinfandel producers (including Ridge Vineyards, Four Vines Winery and Ballentine Vineyards) each partner with a local restaurant — A16, Wayfare Tavern and Beretta have participated in the past. The chefs and winemakers work together to create an ideal pairing of a bite of food and taste of zin. Tickets for Epicuria are $125 each ($95 for ZAP members).
Saturday’s grand tasting tracks are not to be missed. There are three options: a sensory tasting that focuses on zin’s flavor; a reserve and barrel tasting where ticket holders are invited to sip new and rare zins; and a terroir tasting, which teaches about the different grape-growing regions. Each session lasts two hours, with three different start times (10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.). Gourmet food trucks such as Kung Fu Tacos and El Sur Empanadas will be on hand to feed hungry drinkers during the hour-long breaks. Individual tasting track tickets cost $70 ($60 for ZAP members), but an all-day, all-access pass is $150.
Where to Stay
Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco is the official host hotel of the Zinfandel Experience. Although it’s not located in the Presidio, the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel is a short cab ride from the events on Thursday and Saturday. The Four Seasons also serves as a fest venue: Friday’s flight forum and the 1940s-themed winemaker dinner and auction both take place at the hotel. The latter is Leamy’s favorite part of the experience. “The winemakers bring in special wines, some really old stuff and some unique barrel samples,” he says. “It’s really cool to have this reception and after go in and have a beautiful meal. Each table has a host winemaker and you really get to know the wine and its producer.”
ZAP offers an ultimate VIP getaway for two, a package that includes a two-night stay at Four Seasons San Francisco and access to all four events for $1,975 (you can also tack on a third night for $295).
Photos Courtesy of ZAP-Wayde Carroll