I find it interesting and somewhat ironic that some of the leading and most innovative winemakers of our time are making some of the most exciting wines from vineyards that were planted well before they were born, from varietals that are not exactly “of the moment” – many of these wines are labeled Zinfandel on their bottles, but are in fact true field blends, sometimes of dozens of varietals, with just enough Zin to hit that 75% mark. In fact, saving these vineyards before the vines were torn out and replaced with more trendy and profitable varieties [like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon] or ripped out entirely for property development created a common cause and resulted in the formation of the Historic Vineyard Society.
The Historic Vineyard Society is dedicated to registering and preserving the historic old vineyards in California. Spearheaded by Mike Officer of Carlisle Winery & Vineyards, Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars and Sandlands, and Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Company, along with Mike Dildine who holds this whole thing together, the project team also includes:
Bob Biale (Robert Biale Vineyards)
David Gates (Ridge Vineyards)
Jancis Robinson (author and wine critic)
Larry Piggins (photography)
Once a year, the HVS holds an event giving attendees the opportunity to tour some of these old vineyards as well as spend time and dine with the winemakers and grape growers who make all this happen.
Two years ago, my wife Karen and I attended the event in Napa. We missed last year’s Lodi tour but this year we were able to make it to the event in Healdsburg in Sonoma County hosted by Limerick Lane Cellars. This time the theme was the historic vineyards of the Russian River Valley.
Photos from the event can be seen here.
We all met at Limerick Lane Cellars on a delightfully cool and overcast day and waited for the buses to arrive. As there were about 100 of us and we had four vineyards to visit, each bus had a different itinerary so we could all enjoy the vineyard visits in comfortably sized groups. When it was time board our buses, we sat in our seats waiting for the bus to fill and wondering who our tour guide would be. We would have been happy with anyone, but Karen quietly whispered “Cool!’ when Morgan Twain-Peterson joined us.
Morgan, son of Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson, produces outstanding wines under his Bedrock label, mostly from great old vineyards. [I don’t hold it against him that the first wine he made was a Pinot Noir; after all, he was only five years old at the time!]
According to the HVS website, for a vineyard to qualify for inclusion in the registry of Historic Vineyards it must have been planted prior to 1961, be currently producing wine grapes and at least 1/3 of the producing vines be traceable back to the original planting date. The website indicates that the Russian River Valley AVA has 45 historic vineyards, with 19 of them registered by the HVS. Of those 19, we went to four – Papera Ranch, Belloni Vineyard, Limerick Lane Vineyard and Carlisle Vineyard.
All four vineyards had two things in common, besides being old. They were all true field blends, predominantly Zinfandel but with lots of other grape varieties in the mix, including some whites. But the other thing is that they all have about them is that you feel a real “sense of place” when you visit them – at least I did. There are a lot of interpretations of “terroir” floating around, and I’m not qualified to opine on their validity. But to me, “terroir” means everything about the vineyard that makes the wine unique. And these old vineyards have a lot that is special about them. In Part 2 I’ll give you some more info about each property we visited as well as tell you about the rest of the event.
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 Bushman Consulting (fka Eve’s Wine 101 Consulting) http://evebushmanconsulting.com/ and President of MCP Financial. Michael can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.