What is ‘old vine’? According to many in the industry, most notably Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood Winery, that age requirement should be 50 years. And he should know; Mr. Peterson is an authority on the heritage vines and grape varieties in California. Few have as much experience with ancient vineyards in the state.
I read an article recently that raises concerns about the future of these vineyards, which are being uprooted for reasons of urban sprawl or to replant with more desirable and profitable varieties. Please see the link at the bottom of this post. The article, ironically, is centered on Joels’ son, Morgan. He, like his father before him, loves the complexities and personality that these vines bring to wines. In short, making retro cool again. I have had the chance to taste some of his offerings, and these are truly great examples of terroir and what mature vineyards can deliver. Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Syrah, and Mourvedre were planted by immigrants coming to California generations ago, and they are as finicky as the cultures that nurtured them. I just hope that patience rewards you as it does some of these vineyards.
I am also reminded of the time spent at an iconic winery in Napa Valley last year. Francis Ford Coppola had just purchased the rights of the name ‘Inglenook’ from the Wine Group. For years, Inglenook has been a cheap jug wine, a 3 liter bottle you had to reach down to the bottom shelf to grab. However, it was not the case 50 years ago. At that time, Inglenook was the most celebrated winery in the United States. When Robert Mondavi was managing sales at the family estate of Charles Krug in St. Helena, and his brother in charge of winemaking, this estate 10 miles south was king. And, as i walked through the vineyards early in the morning, i snapped pictures of these ‘old vine’ Cabernet Sauvignon rows. Gnarly, with trunks thick as my leg, they had stood the test of time, on rootstocks no longer used for fear of disease.