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The Old Hill Ranch - Sonoma’s Greatest Vineyard?

Related Imagery
An ancient vine, in there somewhere.
Younger vines for the Bambino
Cabernet vines in rocky soil

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.

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  • My absolute favorite wine in all the world is Rombauer Zin! It's rich, jammy and has a depth I've not expeienced with any other wine, be it a zin or otherwise. Are there other zin's that have similar characteristics? I've tried Klinker and 7 Deadly Zins, among others, but have always been disapointed. Your advice is appreciated.

    Nov 13, 2013 at 4:37 PM

  • Snooth User: DM94523
    77883 104

    There are some fantastic Zins (or Zin-based wines) from DeLoach (Forgotten Vines), A Rafanelli, Buena Vista (Attila's Selection, Legendary Badge blend), and others. My top recommendation is probably Robert Biale in Napa.

    Nov 13, 2013 at 5:16 PM

  • Snooth User: Maddog12
    109388 1

    I echo Blueharmony about Rombauer. It is superb. If you haven't visited their tasting room you owe it to yourself to go. They start each tasting with their reds, and rinse the glass out in between each wine with their outstanding Chardonnay. No they don't use water to rinse. Another excellent zin in the same port style is Sextant 2011 Zin. It is available at Whole Foods.

    Nov 13, 2013 at 5:52 PM

  • Snooth User: gjsliney
    80804 266

    Zinfandel is by far my favorite varietal. I particularly like the field blends as the other grapes add their nuances. So many Zins and so little time. That is why I ama memebr of Zap!

    Nov 13, 2013 at 6:03 PM

  • Snooth User: rmrd0000
    365090 7

    It is possible to set up a simple print function on these articles it would make reading on mobile devices easier

    Nov 13, 2013 at 7:23 PM

  • Snooth User: Jakelast
    1405550 21

    If you like Rombauer zin give Selby Bobcat zin (Sonoma)a try. I have had several vintages and it seems to be on a par and perhaps even better than the Rombauer and of course any of the zins from Ridge. The Ridge wines can be bigger and stronger but still have a lot of the richness you find in the Rombauer

    Nov 13, 2013 at 8:28 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 2,852

    Glad to see you took some time to visit with farmer Will. He's an asset to California viticultural history. Great guy, great wines, great story!

    Nov 13, 2013 at 8:33 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 184,831

    I love seeing such a vibrant discussion regarding Zinfandel. Such a great variety and one that often does not get the respect it deserves. Thanks OT, I've been a fan of the wines for a long time and actually got them brought into the NY market for the first time quite a few years ago. It was a long awaited visit and one that will sick with me!

    Nov 14, 2013 at 3:02 AM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 2,852

    GDP, I had the pleasure of a tour in 2012. Will is a unique guy and his farming practices are to be admired. One of the more educational wine days of my life.

    Nov 14, 2013 at 10:21 AM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 4,745

    That vineyard map is awesome. Maps fascinate me. I did a quick internet search and found some other examples(Bien Nacido and Chamisal in the Central Coast). Those, however, had the different varieties planted by blocks. This one is so cool having the the individual plants depicted showing the dispersion throughout the vineyard.

    Nov 14, 2013 at 2:25 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 184,831

    It's an amazing map! So much fun for the casual wine geek, walking the vineyard with Will, who can identify many of the varieties in the vineyard is even better!

    Nov 15, 2013 at 4:39 PM

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