Perfecting California Classics, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah
The story behind the inception of family-owned and operated Robert Biale Vineyards is one of Napa Valley’s greatest treasures. It began in the 1940s when 14-year-old Aldo Biale was trying to find a way to assist his mother, Cristina, to help supplement his family’s income after his father, Pietro, died in a rock quarry explosion. The tragic loss of his father at such a young age propelled a tenacious Aldo into winemaking, which he learned under the guidance of his Uncle Angelo. He began selling Zinfandel to Napans in the know, who would call the party line telephone system to order eggs, produce, and ‘Black Chicken’- ‘Gallina Nera’ in Italian – which was the code word for a jug of his bootleg wine. For those unfamiliar with the old-school party line, it was a system in which callers shared the same line and could hear each other’s conversations. Hence, the code name, ‘Black Chicken’ prevented the authorities and neighbors from discovering the clandestine and highly sought-after Zinfandel. When Aldo purchased his first car several years later, a blue 1940s Studebaker, he began personally delivering orders on Fridays.
In 1991, Robert (Bob) Biale and his partners Dave Pramuk, Al Perry, and his father, Aldo, founded Robert Biale Vineyards. For thirty years, their focus has been perfecting the production of California classic grape varieties like Zinfandel and Petite Sirah from heritage vineyards, some of whose vines date to the 1880s.
Wine consumers and industry colleagues recognize Robert Biale Vineyards as the gold standard for producing such varieties. The winery’s ongoing commitment to producing small quantities of wine from concentrated, intense, and old-vine fruit is second to none. “Diligent farming, expressive terroir, and superb elegance are the hallmarks of our winery,” said Bob Biale.
Under winemaker Tres Goetting, who has been making wine at Biale since 2013, Robert Biale Vineyards offers a portfolio of 20 handcrafted wines. “Having the ability to taste living history from vines planted well over 100 years ago is a compelling reason to stop in and try one or more of our 15 single-vineyard Zinfandel offerings,” added Biale.
Black Chicken Zinfandel is the winery’s flagship wine. The grapes come from the estate vineyard in the cool, southern Oak Knoll District AVA. It is the benchmark expression of Napa Valley Zinfandel and a Black Chicken Society wine club favorite due to its excellence and endearing story surrounding the name.
According to Goetting, the 2019 Black Chicken Zinfandel is round and plush with a gentle grip of perfectly ripe tannins. Bright aromas with fine-grained texture, this wine exhibits notes of red and dark fruit – raspberries, cherries, blackberries – star anise, black and white pepper, cocoa, and subtle, nuanced oak. Age-worthy, compelling, and decadent, this beautifully proportioned Zinfandel is ready to enjoy now and will continue to age gracefully over the next three to five years. Robert Biale Vineyards is open to visitors by appointment only seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Their “Valley Vista Experience” offers a relaxed, seated tasting on the winery’s back porch facing the estate’s vineyards with an exceptional view of Napa Valley.
Story By: Elizabeth Smith // Photos Courtesy of: Robert Biale Vineyards
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