STORYBOOK MOUNTAIN WINERY: A storybook past leads to great wines

CLEVELAND - Storybook Mountain Winery has a storybook history.

Dr. Jerry Sepp was 70 years old when he took the trek up Mount Everest. It started out as a family trip, says the now 76-year-old former European History professor. But the family couldn't get their schedules to work, so he decided to climb Everest.

The trek took almost three weeks. And if you ask him why he did it, the response is simple -- why not?

Sepp is no stranger to conquering mountains. In the 1970s, he purchased an old abandoned winery and vineyard just north of Calistoga along the Mayacamas Range, and founded Storybook Mountain Winery. That's where the climb began to becoming the the best Red Zinfandel wine producer in the United States.

"Everyone told us to plant Chardonnay grapes on the land," remembers Sepp. "That was what everyone else was doing."

But the rocky red clay loam was not the best for Chardonnay. So, he made the choice to plant Zinfandel.
And he made the right choice. Storybook Mountain is perfect for Red Zins. It's located right at the base of the Chalk Hill Gap. That's a little cut one mountain range that allows cool ocean breezes from the Pacific Ocean to the west to reach into his vineyards.

We are the coolest vineyard in the northern part of Napa valley, he says. Indeed, the valley floor just a stone's throw away can be a full 10 degrees warmer than the Storybook Mountain vines.

So, where did the name Storybook come from? The original winery on the property was founded by two brothers named Jacob & Adam Grimm. Of course, the name invokes the memories of the those other famous brothers who wrote a book of fairy tales. But that's not the only reason I want the wine to tell a story, says Sepp.

To achieve that, Sepp is meticulous with his grapes. While most wine makers ferment Zinfqndel for about five days, Storybook wines are fermented for between 18 and 25 days.

"I want big aromatics on the front end," he says, "and intense favors on the palette, but I don't want it to be heavy. And I want a long finish with fruit flavors."

To achieve this consistently, year after year, Jerry oversees even the smallest of details starting in the vineyard all the way to the bottle, touching every grape that comes in.

He'll even change the temperature of the fermenting grapes every day to get the best flavors out of the wine.
And that attention to detail has paid off. His wines are routinely scoring above 90 points out of 100 by the major wine reviewers.

Recently, the Storybook Mountain Reserve Zinfandel was awarded a score of 97 points, the highest score ever awarded to a red Zinfandel wine. His wines are even served at the White House. You take care of the land, and it will take care of you, adds Sepp. It's quite a view from the top.

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