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Sought After

Get on the horn and get in line for A. Rafanelli

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The cult of Rafanelli Zinfandel is an unusual one. Like others that have earned the "cult" badge, this winery does not participate in barrel tasting weekends—their wine sells out when it's released, once a year, to a mailing list. And you can bet there's a waiting list for that mailing list.

Yet being fourth-generation Dry Creek Valley grape growers, Rafanelli still opens its cellar to anyone who's curious, free of charge, with just one catch: you've got to ring up Rafanelli on the phone. No email or handy web app thingy will get you an appointment here.

"They'd rather just talk to you," explains my host at the tasting room. It's not that they eschew social media; it's that this small winery and residence at the end of a one-lane driveway can't accommodate much traffic and parking.

It is a tidy arrangement—from the way the terraced vine rows curl up just below the ranch house to the way barrels are nestled inside the wood-paneled, jewel box of a wine cellar, everything seems fitted and styled just so.

Lucky visitors may get a tour beyond the little cellar where Zinfandel mellows in big, oval casks before it's transferred to smaller oak barrels, on through the larger fermentation room, which is also warmed by the glow of wood—the walls are covered with plastic during punchdown season every year.

A passageway reverently illuminated via stained glass windows leads to a wine cave drilled into the hillside in the modern way. Here's an alcove nicely furnished with a big table and decor—surely this is the high-ticket winery event space? Not really. The last event might have been a harvest party given for the staff, says my host, who, like others here, is not a marketing professional but a local who goes way back with the family, and is filling in at the tasting room today.

Back in the 1990s, Rafanelli wines got approving remarks from Robert Parker, but the winery has since dropped out of the wine-score scene. Their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a blend from terraced vineyards are sold-out, leaving only one wine to taste today. The 2014 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($42), the largest bottling at 7,000 cases, pours as dusky as blackberry juice, and speaks of a long slumber in casks that have known many slumbering wines—it's not "casky," which is something of a wine slight, but smells cleanly of rich, dark fruit steeped in wine-soaked wood, an aroma that's worth the wait.

A Rafanelli Winery, 4685 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Daily 10am–4pm by appointment only; no fee. Pick up the phone and call 707.433.1385.

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