The Beginning & The Founders

In 1969, aerospace engineers Norman deLeuze and Gino Zepponi, along with their families, turned their entrepreneurial enthusiasm toward winemaking. These were the early days of California's wine industry, and they were among Napa Valley’s adventurous winemaking pioneers. Their founding concept was to produce world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir reminiscent of France’s renowned Burgundy wines. They achieved this endeavor by sourcing from the cool Carneros regions of Napa and Sonoma. 

The ZD Wines brand highlights the initials of the founding partners’ last names, but it also symbolizes the term Zero Defects, an acronym for the quality control program Norman and Gino worked under while designing rockets at AeroJet, a rocket propulsion manufacturer in Sacramento, CA. Norman’s wife and founding partner Rosa Lee deLeuze quips that ZD also stands for the names of her two cats, Zesty and Delightful. 

During ZD’s first decade, the winery was located in a small rented farm building in the Sonoma Carneros. The two founders held down their day jobs while producing wine with their families at this property on weekends, holidays and vacations. The first wine ZD produced was a 1969 Pinot Noir harvested from 4.9 grape tons. This founding wine has historical significance, as it was the first wine to recognize Carneros on its label. The label read: "Made in Sonoma from grapes grown in the Carneros region of Napa." Only a few precious bottles of 1969 Pinot Noir remain in ZD’s wine cellar. The Carneros region was not declared an appellation until in 1983.

Norman left engineering and became the first full-time employee at ZD Wines in 1978. A ten-year prospectus was put together to help attain financing and expand the winery. Once a loan was secured, ZD purchased a small parcel of land on the Silverado Trail along the eastern bench of Rutherford, a world class area in the heart of Napa Valley known for premium Cabernet Sauvignon. Construction of a new state-of-the-art winery soon began and ZD’s first estate vineyard was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Sadly, in 1985, Gino Zepponi passed away unexpectedly. At the time, he was Vice President of sparkling wine producer Domaine Chandon. Shortly thereafter, Norman and Rosa Lee deLeuze purchased the Zepponi interest in ZD and became the sole owners of the winery. 

In 2007, Norman passed away following a battle with Lymphoma. A man with strong convictions, he maintained a non-toxic approach to health care throughout his struggle with Lymphoma, eventually building a relationship with the UC Davis Oncology Department. Norman and his family eventually created the deLeuze Family Endowment for a Non-toxic Cure for Lymphoma, with the following mission statement: "This endowment fund is established to recognize and further promote the outstanding research approach of Dr. Joseph Tuscano and the UC Davis Cancer Center in pursuing a non-toxic cure for lymphoma which will have widespread availability for lymphoma patients. When a cure for lymphoma is found, this fund will be designated toward non-toxic cures in perpetuity." 

Having raised over $1,000,000, ZD Wines thanks our supporters for continuing to join the family in the non toxic fight against lymphoma.

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