Jerry Seps was a tenured professor of history at Stanford University when he decided to quit and buy an 80-acre parcel of neglected vineyard in Napa Valley. That was in 1976, right before the Judgment of Paris, when the rest of the world regarded Napa Valley wines as somewhere between jug wine and white lightning. Because the price per acre hadn't skyrocketed, new growers could afford to take risks, and Seps did, by planting a grape called zinfandel and calling his winery Storybook.
Zinfandel had started to make the news for all the wrong reasons. The year before, Sutter Home had found that sickly sweet white zin would fly off the shelves, and pretty soon zinfandel was synonymous with everything that was bad about American wine. Still, Seps kept the grapes growing, and in 1983, he released Storybook's first zin (a red, mind you). Since then, Storybook has been served at official White House gatherings and has been the most acclaimed wine at ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers), which Seps started and which holds the largest zinfandel festival in the world.
Tonight, Seps makes an appearance at 801 Chop House to talk about the early days of zinfandel and where it will go.
I spoke to Seps over the weekend. He'd been in his vineyard but came back indoors long enough
to talk. I asked him what wine aficionados at 801 Chop House should
expect of him. "I've been doing this for 33 years and, being a
former professor, I am partial to making the experience
educational," he told me. "What I talk about depends on the audience. I get a feel for
the level of the people that are attending. I would like to say that
Kansas City is a good wine place. People are quite knowledgeable and
well-traveled. It's the city of fountains but you could call it the
city of wine."
For the dinner, Seps said he's showcasing four
zinfandels along with a zin-cab-lo mix and a cabernet-sauvignon. It's
six wines in a five-course meal consisting of assorted cheeses,
stuffed African prawns, seared lamb chop with couscous, braised short
ribs and chocolate truffles with ice cream.
Seps said the best part about doing these dinners all over the country
is talking to people who love wine and getting the word out about
Storybook. "Zinfandel is like Rodney Dangerfield. We both don't get no
respect.... Ten years ago, 15 years ago, I would have said that yes, people thought of zin as white zin. Wine culture and appreciation for good wines like zinfandels has grown, and now some of
our wines score at 95 or 96 ... also with the economy the way it is,
people perceive zins as better values, and their sales go up."
The Seps dinner and talk lasts from 6 to 9 tonight. Tickets are $85 per person. Make reservations by calling 816-994-8800.