Over 25 years of operating as “Napa’s House of Zinfandel” we’ve received countless inquiries from customers in our tasting room, at events, by phone, and via the internet. Being so different from most Napa Valley wineries, and associated with so many unique stories and vineyard names, has prompted a multitude of questions. For example:
1. I heard that “Black Chicken” was some sort of secret term used during Prohibition. What is the story behind that name?
That is partially correct. Black Chicken was an insider’s code of sorts for the Zinfandel that Aldo Biale used to sell as a young man in order to help make ends meet. However, it was in the era of the Great Depression that started in 1929 – the year that Aldo was born. Aldo’s father passed away at a young age in 1942, and Aldo as a teenager had to help run his parents’ farm which produced fruits, nuts, vegetables, plus lots of eggs and chickens. The interesting twist was that the family’s phone line in those days in rural Napa was called the “party line” an often awkward situation where houses shared the same phone. Since it was basically an open line, Aldo invented a password that his customers would use to disguise the fact that they were ordering a jug of so-called bootleg Zinfandel!
2. Is Zinfandel from California?
Well, it’s a long story, but the short answer is “no.” A good way to put it would be that because Zinfandel has been so prevalent and unique to California for so long that it is identified as a Californian grape. But actually, we now know through DNA research that Zinfandel is truly from Croatia where it is called Crljenak Kastelanski. It was transported to New York and Boston in the 1830’s then went west to California during the Gold Rush of 1849 where it was adopted as the state’s most favored and planted wine grape. Many century-old vines still produce great wine! Research has also shown that Zinfandel is an ancient variety of Central Europe where over centuries it has been also known as Tribidrag.
3. We fell in love with a Biale wine at dinner at a restaurant and I have searched several local wine outlets for Biale wines to no avail. Where can I find it?
First, avoid the huge stores who offer deals and push volume. They don’t carry our wines. We always recommend patronizing independent wine specialist shops first because they are more personal, helpful, informative and service-oriented. They will gladly cater to your interests and budget and work to earn your trust. These kind of stores know Biale Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs and are very special and allocated, but are often sold out due to our small production quantities. If you can’t find it locally, simply contact us directly. We can ship wine to most states at reasonable rates. Since we produce nearly twenty wines, many customers who fall in love with our wines join The Black Chicken Society. It is a wine collecting and fun-loving social group that receives automatic shipments of hard to find, small productions wines, and who like to attend our winery events and winery-hosted events around the country. After a year’s membership, we ship cases with no added shipping charge – a huge convenience, benefit and savings.
4. What food is the best match for your Zinfandel?
One very prominent chef we know who produced a Biale-specific dinner simply answered that question– “everything!” She wasn’t exaggerating. Zinfandel, especially in our fruit-driven and elegant style, is a “chameleon” wine in that it easily adapts to its surroundings. Dress it up, dress it down, Zinfandel seems to find a happy place with all sorts of cooking. In fact, Zinfandel may be the most versatile wine with food. At our Biale-focused dinner events, chefs often pair Biale with duck, pork, and braised meats. Many firm cheeses work beautifully. Sometimes a fruity or chocolate dessert! Because of Biale’s zesty acidity and brightness, it shows amazingly well with classic Italian dishes, rich sauces, and ethnic cuisine from around the world: Morocco, Turkey, India, South and Central America. Being an American-identified wine, perhaps the classic match for Zinfandel is good ol’ fashioned slow and smoky barbecue!
5. Where are the Biale vineyards?
Robert Biale Vineyards’ collection of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Barbara, and more come from rare, historic, and special sites throughout Napa and Sonoma valleys. They’re like living historic landmarks, which speaks to another era and from the land where they’re planted. The estate vineyards are the Biale family Black Chicken, Aldo’s and Nonna’s vineyards in Napa (originally planted in 1937), and the nearby Biale Winery estate vineyard in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll District. In every case, the vineyards are overseen by Bob Biale and winemaker Tres Goetting. Throughout the entire year, they work with each grower, to ensure that necessary farming practices will produce the highest quality grapes and wines. What’s remarkable about these old vineyards is that they exist at all, considering that they’ve survived market forces, diseases, family succession etc. But, the fact that they’re planted on excellent sites, are hardy vines, and are part of strong sense of stewardship and family traditions helps to ensure that they endure – Plus, as our fan base will readily attest, they make for extraordinary wine drinking experiences!!!