world-class wines was the dream of two former aerospace engineers who in pursuit
of their dream launched ZD Wines. The plan was to produce wines similar to those
from the renowned Burgundy region of France; specifically, the Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay winegrape varieties. In 1968, Norman de Leuze and Gino Zepponi pooled
their resources of $3,000 apiece and applied for a winery permit. At that time,
there had not been a winery permit issued in Sonoma County for nearly 20 years.
The permit was issued in 1969.
After combining their resources, Norman and Gino rented a small farm building
in the Carneros region of Sonoma County. They purchased winegrapes, some 50-gallon
oak barrels and a redwood vat. Three hundred cases of Pinot Noir and a small amount
of White Riesling represented ZD's first commercial vintage in 1969. These grapes
were purchased from the Winery Lake Vineyard, which had been planted a few years
earlier by René di Rosa. ZD's 1969 Pinot Noir carries the historical significance
of being the first wine to have a Carneros designation on the label. It states:
"Made in Sonoma from grapes grown in the Carneros region of Napa." The Chardonnay
winegrapes from Winery Lake Vineyard were not in production until 1971, which
is the first vintage of ZD Chardonnay.
The de Leuze and Zepponi families spent weekends and holidays crafting ZD's wines
from winegrapes grown in carefully selected vineyards located in some of today's
most recognized wine regions. During the 1970s, a very open-minded approach was
taken towards trying new and different varieties and growing regions. Research
was undertaken to discover which regions produced the winegrape varieties that
best reflected ZD's developing style - wines with rich, vibrant flavors.
Over the years, ZD experimented with Zinfandel from the Shenandoah Valley; Pinot
Noir from Oregon, Napa and Santa Barbara; Chardonnay from Napa, Sonoma, Monterey
and Santa Barbara; Gewürztraminer from the Carneros; a proprietary field blend
of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc named Bacher Blanc; and even Flora, a hybrid of
Semillon developed at the University of California, Davis.
After 10 years of producing wine as a part-time business, Norman left engineering
to devote all of his time to doing what had become a full-time passion. A six-acre
parcel of land was purchased located along the beautiful Silverado Trail in Rutherford,
Napa Valley. Here, a new winery was built in 1979. One year later, Cabernet Sauvignon
was planted on the surrounding property. It was also after 10 years of experience
producing California wines that a three varietal focus was taken, which returned
ZD to its original plan. In 1980, ZD began producing only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
and Cabernet Sauvignon. By this time, ZD had already established a reputation
for producing wines of outstanding quality, distinctive style and consistent character.
Today, the de Leuze family continues to produce wines with a personal, hands-on
approach. Over the years, all of Norman and Rosa Lee's children - Robert, Julie
and Brett - have joined the winery staff. Robert's involvement began the day his
father formed the winery and began crushing winegrapes. From the time he was 11
years old, Robert was never far behind Norman. He worked seven harvests before
entering college to officially study viticulture and enology. Even while attending
the University of California, Davis, Robert continued to work at ZD on the weekends
and during the summer. Robert's studies at UCD continued until 1979, when the
opportunity arose at ZD to participate in the building of the new winery. After
years of practical experience and three years of college, Robert became cellarman,
then cellarmaster, and finally in 1983, winemaker. At the same time, Norman stepped
into the title of CEO.
Julie joined the winery in 1979 as administrative director. At first working part
time, Julie became a full-time employee in 1981. Finally, in 1988, Rosa Lee acquired
some help. Returning from California State University, Sacramento with a degree
in marketing, Brett joined Rosa Lee to form a mother-son marketing team. Today,
there are six full-time employees and a tasting room staff assisting the family.
Over the years, ZD Wines have graced the tables of White House dinner parties,
spanning three administrations. The wines have garnered over 342 awards of excellence
in prestigious competitions; and in 1997, ZD Wines was named a Winery of the Year
by the Wine & Spirits Buying Guide.
In 1993, ZD
wines undertook an expansion project that more than tripled the existing winery
size. The success of ZD Wines can only be attributed to the dedication and winemaking
philosophy of the de Leuze family. As ZD Wines reaches towards a new millenium,
the family continues to grow. In addition to grandchildren, the de Leuze family
just purchased an historical, 33-acre vineyard in Carneros. Formerly owned by
Irish immigrant Patrick Flanagan, the property is planted with 26 acres of Chardonnay.
Another seven acres is being planted to Pinot Noir. As the winery continues to
grow, so does the vision of ZD Wines.