Beekeeper Cellars: Tasting New and Past Vintages

Last weekend my husband Eddie and I attended a stellar Beekeeper Zinfandel tasting – vintages from 2011 through 2016 – at Kali Restaurant on Melrose. We tasted nine wines in total including these that we knew about from the invitation:

This is your opportunity to taste some of Beekeeper Cellars greatest wines, including our all-new 2015 Montecillo Vineyard Zinfandel…alongside their 2016 Secret Stones and Montecillo.

As we waited for some last minute guests to arrive Ian Blackburn, who makes Beekeeper Zinfandels with winemaker Clay Mauritson, told us a few stories:

  • “What I love about ZIN is how specific the flavor profile of the place can be transmitted…more than Pinot…more than Sauvignon Blanc…this is the ULTIMATE story tell of place.”
  • Their 10th harvest is the 2018, which Ian believes will be an incredible vintage.
  • After getting his degree in Hospitality Management at Cal Poly he started his career doing inventory in a hotel, and “sipping a little bit on the side.”
  • Ian found himself on a Napa trip, travelling as the group’s chef, and discovered some “cool…great vintages…slept at Robert Mondavi’s house, met Joseph Phelps…” and it was a turning point for him. He started his wine business soon after.
  • His Beekeeper wines require some time laying down and “patience.”
  • All of the wines spend time in 100% French oak, no American oak. They purchased an exceptional sorting table – no raisins get through.
  • His secret ingredient in some of his Zinfandels is a percentage of Petite Sirah. For his Rockpile Zinfandels it can be anywhere between 4 and 20 percent.
  • Why the name Beekeeper? Ian’s great-grandparents were entertainers, not the desired immigrants to the U.S. at the time, so they said they were beekeepers.

Framed by the lovely Kali restaurant, and served up a pairing that included short rib, French cheese and risotto with black garlic, I was more than ready to start tasting. (See photos of Ian, Chef Kevin Meehan, the food and the wine here.)

Wine Tasting (The majority of these wines, if not all, have received 94 points and above from the Connoisseurs Guide, Wine Advocate and/or wine critic Jeb Dunnuck. I did not score these wines, I only note the aromas, flavors – divided by ; – and favorites.


2011 Rockpile – Rich, velvety, black fruit, chocolate; black cherry, spice, great balance. The first wine to sample and already a favorite.

2012 Rockpile – Bright, cigar, oak, blueberry; dry, tannic, dark fruit. Eddie’s first favorite.

2012 Black Sears – Dried berries, char, leather; red to blue fruit tannic, long finish.

2014 Montecillo – Rich, cherry cola, green peppercorn; spice right up fruit, thickly layered fruit. Our second favorite so far.

2015 Montecillo – Balanced, blue to black fruit, black licorice; dark fruit, cigar tannin.

2016 Montecillo – Red cherry, stems, green brush; round, tart, dry, lingering black fruit. Found our third favorite with this one.

2015 Rockpile “Secret Stones” – A bit of Petite Sirah and more time in oak for this Zinfandel, and it proved to be our fourth and top favorite in the tasting. I’m a sucker for wines where the aromas are so different from the flavors: stewed fruit, muddy earth, prune; lovely slightly sweet fruit balanced perfectly with black pepper, making the wine seem older than a 2016 for me.

2016 Rockpile “Secret Stones” – This wine was just released: tart cherry, fresh, cigar; dry, tart, but also quite earthy.

2016 Rockpile Hidden Hillside Reserve – A blend from both Rockpile and Montecillo, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, not sent in for critic reviews. Strong dark fruit, wet leaves; dry fruit, tannic, long finish.

Beekeeper Cellars

(707) 939-5611

Ian Blackburn has worked in the wine industry for twenty years, focusing on marketing and education. Winemaker Clay Mauritson, well known as a premier producer of fine Zinfandel. Together, they formed Beekeeper Cellars, wines that are sure to thrill the minds and palates of true Zinfandel Connoisseurs. 2011 – 96 points (limited availability), 2010 – 93 points (sold out) 2009 – 95 points (sold out). See more on Facebook à

Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email to ask a question about wine or spirits. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.