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The Old Hill Ranch - Sonoma’s Greatest Vineyard?
The complete story of the Old Hill ranch must be equally fascinating, though perhaps not right for inclusion here. It’s worth noting that through the Bucklin’s stewardship the property has been brought back to life. Some 30 plus years ago when the family bought the property is was already a classic old vine vineyard. Classic in the sense that the vines were struggling, yielding some half ton of fruit an acre and struggling to survive. Change was slow, as was the acquisition of knowledge in those pre internet days. Some 30 plus years ago the family decided to begin farming organically, and slowly, as Will Bucklin relates, they became aware of some of the forces that drive the vines. A plan for soil enrichment was developed, one that over the years has supported the vines to produce up to about two tons an acres in a vigorous year.
I used the term stewardship earlier and you get the sense very clearly that this is what is happening here. There is a palpable feeling that the goal of the Bucklin’s is to perpetuate what they have, with the full understanding that what they have is very special. It seems rather mundane at first glance. Thirty acres, some old vines, and a rolling meadow, but the truth is much more complex. Of course there are the 26 or so varieties of vines planted on the property but walk with Will Bucklin down through the vines and you become aware of subtle and abrupt changes in the soil, the way the sun hits the back of your neck and the angle at which the breeze floats up the valley.
We tend to think of this day and age as something special. Something precise and definitive, but what we forget is that before we were able to exchange so much knowledge so easily we were able to exchange very specific knowledge very slowly and precisely. Somehow pioneers in these northern Californian valleys were able to figure out where the ideal places to plant vines were. This piece of dirt, taking up virtually the entire width of the Sonoma Valley floor just miles north of the city of Sonoma is one of those ideal places. We look at this mess of vines today and wonder what they were thinking. How did this planting make sense? And yet, they were thinking, some 150 or so years ago. Perhaps without knowing it they found this place that would nurture and protect vines for longer than anyone could have expected. This place that turned out to offer such a unique and varied range of soils that each corner of the vineyard behaves like a different vineyard, yet bring all the pieces together and you have what could only some from this one place. This Old Hill Ranch.
The old vine Old Hill Zin is not the only wine made here, and today is easily identified by the addition of the word Ancients on the label. There is also a younger vine field blend, along with Grenache, Cabernet a rose and a Petite Sirah that will beat your ass. These are all relatively big wines, the Cabernet perhaps the least so within its paradigm, the amazingly rocky soils in that part of the vineyard no doubt playing a role there. It is easy to see how some people will not like these wines, and I fully understand that, but for those of us who can appreciate this style this is a compelling line-up well worth the effort of tracking down.