Chenoa Ashton-Lewis & Will Basanta
Zazen Zinfandel 2020
Most Zinfandels drink like flannel pajamas in July: too much of everything. Zazen, on the other hand, provides the crisp comfort of satin sheets with fresh fig and evergreen flavors. Taking a popularly unpopular grape and making something awe-inspiring requires vision and conviction. Yet it starts simply: good grapes. Okay, really good grapes. Here this distinction goes to organically farmed Zinfandel from the Suma Kaw Vineyard — a high-elevation (3,000 feet!) site bordered by coniferous forests and native grasslands. Chenoa and Will carefully hand sorted the grapes and fermented them (destemmed and crushed) in an open-top container. Two weeks later, the wine was transferred into neutral French oak barrels, where it aged for 11.5 months (let’s call it a year). **Barrel aging 101: new barrels add sweet vanilla and clove flavors that overpower the wine. Neutral barrels — barrels that have been used in at least four previous vintages — simply enhance what’s already there (adding style and grace as opposed to flavor).** Finally, let’s not overlook Chenoa and Will’s commitment to working as naturally as it gets: all of their wines (Zazen included) are made with zero additions — no commercial yeast, no SO2 — and are unfined/unfiltered. 95 cases were produced. 14% abv.
Deep roots and new ideas. These are the defining traits of Ashanta, which has arrived on the scene with the galvanizing force of a movement. It also helps explain its founders’ combination of chutzpah and unfussy grace. Don’t blink: Chenoa Ashton-Lewis and Will Basanta are about to change California wine as you know it. The Ashton-Lewis wine story begins in the 1970s when Chenoa’s grandparents planted a vineyard atop Sonoma Mountain. Fast-forward to 2017, this 50-year-old family legacy was critically endangered when the Nun’s Fire ravaged the property. But from hardship came new beginnings: In 2019, having learned of a few surviving vines, Chenoa and Will drove up from LA (where they were both working in the film industry) to harvest the fruit. The resulting wine — an experimental co-ferment of Syrah and Pinot Noir — marked the birth of Ashanta, and set the tone for this deeply personal, mission-driven project. The couple produced their first commercial vintage the following year at the Glen Ellen facility of natural wine pioneer Tony Coturri — and they operate with a similarly uncompromising philosophy — all their wines are zero-zero (no SO2 additions), unfined, unfiltered, and fermented with native yeast.