Feast Q&A: Paul Sobon on making Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Best Buys

Paul Sobon of Sobon Family Wines earned kudos in Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Top 100 Best Buys of 2014.”
Paul Sobon of Sobon Family Wines earned kudos in Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Top 100 Best Buys of 2014.” Courtesy Sobon Family Wines

Sobon Estate of Plymouth wraps up 2014 on a high note. The family-run winery made the cut on Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 100 Best Buys 2014” for its 2012 Sobon Estate Old Vines Zinfandel. The bottle with the modest $13 price tag scored 90 points and was lauded as a “solid, middleweight zinfandel (that) emphasizes sophisticated, toasty, spicy oak aromas.”

Also on the local end, Bogle Vineyards of Clarksburg made this much-anticipated list for its 2012 Essential Red, which earned 91 points.

Up in Amador County, the Sobon family is now feeling some extra holiday cheer and is seeing a sales boost from making “Top 100 Best Buys 2014.” The winery, founded in the mid-1970s by Leon Sobon, is now overseen by son Paul, who serves as winemaker and vineyard operations manager. Here’s what Paul Sobon had to say.

What are your memories of the 2012 vintage in Amador County?

If you back up to 2011, that was an incredibly hard vintage with a little crop because of frost, spring rains and then scorching heat. In 2012, all of a sudden there was an above-normal size crop and perfect growing conditions. Everything was great. If you’re looking back the last five to seven years, 2012 was one of the best vintages.

As a winemaker, how did you approach the fruit that was used for your 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel?

People ask me all the time, “What is old vine? Is it a law that it has to be so many years old?” It’s a style. You’re looking for all the characteristics of zinfandel from the blackberry aroma, the sweet plummy fruitiness, a little smoky toast from the barrel. 2012 was one of those years that was perfect for that because of the growing conditions. In 2012, we had some great sources for vineyards and the average age was 45 years old.

Once you ship bottles off for review, are you holding your breath, or do you just kind of forget about it after a while?

We know the drill. It’s like anything you send to anybody, whether it’s the (California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition) or anything else. You know what you did, and hope you sent it at the right time and it gets in front of the right people. Sometimes you think it’s the best wine we ever made and it’ll clean up this season – and well, I guess it’s not to be? Of course, we’d love to be on this list every year. And it’s not just getting in the Top 100, but scoring 90 (points). Our sales went up about 20 percent. It’s a great list to be on.

Some of the wines that make Top 100 rankings are sold out by the time these year-end lists are printed. Can folks still find a bottle? And if so, for how long?

Yes, you can still find them. I was just out the door to check our physical inventory. How many pallets do we have left? I’ll guess they’ll be in retail until the first of the year. It’s very available. Luckily we have more in the pipeline and can make it happen.

Let’s rewind a bit. What was your first vintage as a winemaker for Sobon?

(Pauses). It’s been awhile. I’d say it was maybe the ’98 or ’99 (vintage). My family started the estate and moved here in 1977. After working in the winery and not expecting to get paid, I went to college and then traveled around Europe. I came back, and then I worked the harvest. I worked at three different wineries in Australia in 1983, and when I came back I decided to be in the business. I worked with my father as an assistant and then took over all winemaking 11 years ago.

How does your winemaking style compare to your father’s?

I think my father is more of a traditionalist. His preference would be that under 14 percent (alcohol), the fruit not quite ripe, European-style zinfandel. We still make some like that. I’m more influenced from Australia and the younger generation of wanting more mouthfeel.

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.


Winewaker and vineyard operations manager, Sobon Family Wines

Toasts are going around this family-run winery in Plymouth after its 2012 Old Vines Zinfandel was named to Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 100 Best Buys 2014.”