How do you decide on the wines you buy on a regular basis, whether through clubs, allocation lists, or just at your favorite wine merchant? After all, we are truly blessed with the number of wine selections we have and there are literally hundreds, actually thousands, of excellent wines available.
For me, assuming of course that I like the wine, it’s about feeling some kind of personal connection, whether with the winemaker, the vineyard, or even the winery staff. Admittedly, this doesn’t always happen – there are plenty of wines I buy where I don’t have that personal connection. And, admittedly, sometimes the connection is only in my own mind, which is okay too.
When it does happen, friends and acquaintances will attest that I can sometimes become somewhat of a “fanboy”, singing the praises of the winery and winemaker to anyone who will listen. I know I tend to write about my favorites ad infinitum, perhaps ad nauseum, although I do try to add new wineries to the mix whenever possible. But the relationships I’ve established fuel the stories, which is why you see so many articles from me about Janell Dusi of J Dusi, Stillman Brown of Zeppelin, Mike Officer of Carlisle, etc. And, lest you think these relationships are created by the writing, they actually go back much further and have driven my consumption for a long time. For example, I’ve been a fan of Mike Officer’s Carlisle wines since the first 1998 vintage.
My point here is, getting to know the winemakers and the passion they put into what they are doing, as well as understanding the source of the grapes, can enhance the wine drinking experience. I know it does for me.
Nowhere has this been more evident than at the recent Historic Vineyard Society Tour and Dinner.
The Historic Vineyard Society www.historicvineyardsociety.org is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of California’s historic vineyards. The brainchild of Mike Dildine, the organization has its roots with a list of historic vineyards he started in 2010. A lunch meeting with Mike Officer (Carlisle Vineyards), Morgan Twain-Peterson (Bedrock) and Tegan Passalacqua (Turley Wine Cellars) soon followed and the rest, dare I say, was “history”.
The project team includes the above four, along with Bob Biale of Robert Biale Vineyards, David Gates of Ridge, and Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, as well as photographer Larry Piggins and wine critic Jancis Robinson, all dedicated to keeping the old vineyards alive, most of which are in constant danger of being torn out for more profitable grape varietals or commercial development. The sad truth is that as vines age, they produce less fruit, so there is less money to be made. And the question is always: are the vines good because they are old, or old because they are good? In general, it seems the latter is the case, as these vineyards wouldn’t have survived as long as they have if they weren’t producing excellent fruit.
On Saturday, May 10th, about 90 of us interested in saving these old vines gathered in the parking lot of Robert Mondavi Winery to tour some of the historic vineyards in Napa. Much of what we would see would not resemble the neat rows of vines going on forever that the typical tourist envisions when visiting wine country. Rather, we were going to visit small vineyards with gnarly old vines that had been hanging on for a long time.
We were divided into three groups and assigned to buses. I was ecstatic to hear that the “tour guide” on our bus was going to be Joel Peterson. He laughed when I referred to him as one of the “Godfathers of Zinfandel” but I credit his Ravenswood winery along with the other “Rs” of Zinfandel (Ridge and Rosenblum) for being early influences on my fondness for this particular varietal.
We waited for one last passenger to arrive – Christina Turley of Turley Wine Cellars – and off we went to explore some of the usually unseen parts of Napa Valley.
Our first stop was at the Old Kraft Vineyard. As explained to us by Bob Biale, this vineyard of primarily Zinfandel and Petite Sirah was planted in the 1890s by Frank Kraft and brought back to life by current owner Bill Hart along with vineyard manager Bill Pease. Robert Biale Vineyards uses this vineyard to create its wonderful Old Kraft Vineyard Zinfandel.
A common thread through the day was that, along with appearances somewhat different from most “modern” vineyards, many of these older vineyards are not 100% of any one varietal. Nowhere was this more apparent than our next stop, the Library Vineyard, planted in the 1880s, now named as such because it is behind the St. Helena Public Library. Leading the tour of this vineyard was Mike Officer. Primarily Petite Syrah, the vineyard is planted to almost two dozen grape varieties, including some white ones. Turley Wine Cellars manages this vineyard and produces one of my all-time favorite Petite Syrahs from the grapes. Turley’s arrangement is on a year-to-year basis, and there is constant threat of the vineyard being lost to commercial development.
To be continued…
Michael Perlis has been pursuing his passion for wine for more than 25 years. He has had the good fortune of having numerous mentors to show him the way, as well as a wonderful wife who encourages him and shares his interest. After a couple of decades of learning about wine, attending events, visiting wineries and vineyards, and tasting as much wine as he possibly could, he had the amazing luck to meet Eve Bushman. Now, as Contributing Editor for Eve’s Wine 101, he does his best to bring as much information as possible about wine to Eve’s Wine 101 faithful readers. Michael is also Vice President of Eve’s Wine 101 Consulting (http://evewine101.com/eveswine101consulting/). Michael can be contacted at email@example.com.