Wine Talk

Snooth User: EMark

Old California Vines

Posted by EMark, Dec 4, 2013.

Our friend, Outthere, has made us aware of the Historic Vineyard Society, and I, personally, have enjoyed reading about his experiences with the society, and his interactions with some of the producers who source from these vineyards.  Yesterday, Mrs. Emark handed me an article entitled "The Battle for America's Oldest Vines" that she had clipped from the October issue of Food and Wine.  Yes, we rely on proven technology in this household, but, happily, here is an electronic copy of the same article.

To summarize some of the salient points of the article.

Understandably, the most serious risk to the old vineyards are economic.  Once rural areas are now suburban.  It is easy to understand how a family under economic stress would accept relief from developers.  Also, low-producing, vines are sometimes replaced by more productive, more popular varieties.  The article cites a case where a vineyard owner in Napa Valley replaced 60-year-old Petite Sirah vines and replaced them with Cabernet Sauvignon.

As heartbreaking as it is, I really can't fault people who have to make painful decisions like these.

On the other side of the coin, the article discusses the fact that Sonoma County, which used to be a significant producer of apples, has had those less profitable apple orchards replaced by more profitable vineyards.   It was not that long ago that I remember driving by apple orchards on the Gravenstein Highway, but no more.

The question of why these old vineyards should be preserved was discussed.  Obviously, from the winemakers point of view, each of these old vineyards provides grapes that allow them to create unique and distinguished wines.  There is a great quote from Tegan Passalacqua, "What we do is agriculture instead of agri-business."  Unfortunately, I don't think the article makes any kind of case that these vineyards are, in fact, cultural treasures.  Maybe, somebody else can read it differently that I did.

The article spends some time discussing the Historic Vineyards Society and its goals.  For the most part, it seems that their efforts are centered towards spreading the gospel among the growers.  There are some legislative efforts, however.  There is an effort to give owners of designated vineyards tax relief.  As much as I hate using the tax code for anything outside of providing revenue, I figure I am swimming upstream in that regard.  The tax code is used by everybody to foster their favorite cause--deferments for retirement investments, credits to oil companies, deferments for health insurance, waivers to attract movie filming.  So, I might as well go with the flow on this one.

I went to the Historic Vineyard web site, and now I am getting more excited.  Here is the cool part, they have a database of "Historic Vineyards."  (I love data.)  Currently it has 223 entries of which 65 are "registered."  The information on the "registered" vineyards is much more complete and includes pictures and a link to a "Block Chart."  The Block Charts are another collection of very cool information--variety composition, acreage, soil composition, elevation.  Very, very cool.

I discovered that I live, maybe, a half-hour's drive from two of these vineyards--Lopez and Galleano.  I am going to emulate OT and get some pictures.  In the entry for the Lopez it has this for location:  "At SE corner of intersection of Hwy 210 and Hwy 15."  Well, Hwy 210 and Hwy 10 are not little two-lane routes that I like to drive in Sonoma or Napa counties.  They are very major six-lane (and expanding as I type this) Interstate Routes.  My pictures will not be as idyllic as OT's.

Anyway, I joined the Historic Vineyard Society and made a donation.  I will try to help.

Oh, and my latest delivery from Bedrock arrived today.  

Replies

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Reply by outthere, Dec 4, 2013.

Woo hoo! Another convert.

There is something special about letting vines do their thing, at their own pace with minimal farming. I regularly get to drink wines produced from 100-125 year old vines that still produce to this day. The wines are just so much more distinctive of their varieties and produce a different wine every year due to the field blend and how each variety sets the stage differently fie the vintage. Italian immigrants planted them this way to protect the harvest. If it was too  cool for the Zinfandel then the Carignane or Syrah would cover. If temps were really hot the interplanted whites would provide better acid structure. Very forward thinking.

Modern vineyard management requires replanting many varieties every 10 years or so due to over-cropping, stressing the plants and basically wearing them out quickly.

Thanks for supporting a good cause eMark!

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 5, 2013.

If you look around, you can find Matt Cline's 3Wines old vine wines for pretty cheap.  I think they are a great way to keep these vineyards around, drink really good wine for cheap (not quite up there with Bedrock, but some of his grapes come from the same places as Turley's pricier Zins and way over-deliver) and you get some sense of how these interplanted vineyards came to be and why they succeed.  The Clines and the Jaccuzzis are related by marriage, and the J's go way back in that area of the Bay.  Before they hit it big in hot tubs (yes, same folks), they were East Bay farmers.  Good stuff.

One great thing about keeping those old vineyards around is that it forces us to think about congestion and how we should develop.  Less exurban sprawl preserves the wilderness/pastoral beauty in closer to the city.  Keeping that land in production helps.

BTW, Emark, taxes aren't just for revenue, they are to punish negative externalities and support positive externalities.  In fact, they are at their root a form of capturing the real costs and providing the real benefits of things that markets aren't good at.  So the social engineering aspect, if you want to call it that, is intrinsic.  Now, when it's used to protect an inefficient or lazy manufacturer, or to give preference to, oh, a hedge fund or private equity group, things might have gone too far.  I rant about this while doing my taxes every year--I'm a fanatic self-preparer with too much legal training to take shortcuts, alas. Where we decide to draw the line is a political question, and there is a lot to be said for a simpler and more transparent set of rules.

But anything that supports good wine gets my vote.

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Reply by gregt, Dec 5, 2013.

I think that Cline Mourvedre comes from the same vineyard that used to provide the Ridge Mataro. As far as tax goes, I don't want to get into it but we're going to have a picnic here in NYC in the near future. Our new mayor, who is in person a nice guy, feels that "rich" people, who are defined as anyone who has more money than he does, should pay more so he can distribute their money to causes and organizations he likes.

There used to be a lot of vines down around LA and a lot of orange trees - those are pretty well gone. There used to be a lot of apple farms in and around NYC, those are pretty much gone. There used to be a lot of agricultural areas in the country and land that's good for agriculture is generally also good for development - good drainage, easy to work, etc. The most remote sites that are good for vines - mountains, etc., are good for development because they provide great views. So I think there will always be pressure to develop.

And we sure do need a few more strip malls and 7-11s in our lives. Americans do like their slurpees way more than they like wine from old vines!

In any event, for me, the nice thing about those old vineyards isn't so much that old vines produce different wine, it's that those vineyards weren't planted to monoclonal selections like they are today. I don't think anyone plants mixed blends any more, and that's a shame because I think that's what makes some of those old vineyards so distinctive. And it would be a real shame to lose that and to have only wines that are monovarietal or fixed percentages of various grapes harvested at specific times and later blended in a lab.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 5, 2013.

Politics is the place where we can decide where taxes ought to begin and end... but it reminds me too much of the kind of internecine politics of Ireland and the Middle East, so let's leave off on that subject here.  Suffice it to say, we argue and fight with our neighbors more than those who are a long way away, whether that's ideologically or geographically.

I think if I looked around, I could make the case that GregT, although always against monoculture, might be arguing out of both sides of his mouth about blending in a lab.  But there's absolutely no question that he is right (really following up on OT's comments) that much of the reason in the old days was necessity.  Of course, the "old days" aren't as old as we think, since even the famous wines of, say Bordeaux, didn't take on the character they have now before the advent of topping up and bottling--just finished "The Invention of Wine" by Paul Lukacs, which I can't wholly endorse, but he makes the point that a lot of the "tradition" is invented, and it was invented to convince people that wines already being made mostly by chance were in fact amazing wines. Grapes weren't chosen for great flavor, but for their ability to ripen even back then, because wine was sour enough when it started oxidizing immediately after fermentation, and lots of stuff was added to wine to make it palatable.  Interplanting assured that, if your better grapes didn't ripen, you still had something that would hit high enough sugar early enough to make the wine strong enough to last until you could sell it to a tavern in London.  Sherry was popular because it was already as oxidized as it could be.  Those S. Rhone blends?  The ultimate Hail Mary play. 

Co-fermenting v. blending is an interesting issue, but I gotta get back to work.

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Reply by JenniferT, Dec 5, 2013.

I actually bought a bottle of Cline Mourvedre through a store in Calgary - I just pre-paid for one bottle on the advice of the guy working there. I think they only had 2 cases come in, and that was pretty much it for the province of Alberta. Maybe I should have tried to score a few bottles. I'm really looking forward to trying it.

I became quite interested in old vines and historic vineyards awhile ago, and came across the Historic Vineyard Society in my readings. Thanks, emark for forwarding that article from "Food and Wine". I'll read it later tonight.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 5, 2013.

I think that the Cline Mourvedre is certainly an interesting bottle--the vineyards are really old and it wasn't recognized as such for a while.  (How it got to be Mataro, come to California,  and wind up in the hands of Italian and Portugese immigrants, mostly, is probably a fun research project.)  That said, I did a guest post for Lucha a couple years ago and it didn't totally wow me.  And I think of myself as a Mourvedre fan. 

I get the feeling that for all of the efforts of ampelographers, esp Carole Meredith, we still don't have a complete picture of how some of these vines got here, and why the mixtures wound up where they did.  Definitely not just a matter of doing what they did back home, since Zin and carignan and petite sirah (which might not even be one thing) weren't exactly neighbors anywhere before, and lots of grapes here wound up completely mislabeled.  Of course, there are rumors that melon de bourgogne, known for its use in Pays Nantais in Muscadet, might still exist on the hills of its ancestral home of Burgundy. 

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Reply by EMark, Dec 5, 2013.

With luck I'll be making my annual pilgramage to Sears Point next June.  Since you can practically roll a tire from Sears Point to both Cline and Jacuzzi, I'll make an effort to visit them at that time.

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Reply by dvogler, Dec 5, 2013.

Enjoying the read here.  In BC, we haven't got any old vines to worry about losing, but development is always a potential threat.  The wine country in the British Columbia interior is extremely beautiful, as most of it runs north/south on either side of Lake Okanagan and several connected lakes (about 70 miles).

I don't know if the land is able to be developed.  There are probably limits to sub-division.

I try to support the BC wine industry (there are some fantastic wines).

Isn't mourvedre also monastrell?

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Reply by outthere, Dec 6, 2013.

I have amassed a small collection of photos of iconic Old-Vine sites across Sonoma and Napa Counties over the past few years. Tell me these should not be saved! They are relics of ancient viticultural history in California. Enjoy!

Hayne Vineyard -St Helena, Napa Valley - Turley, Carlisle, Robert Biale

 

Giovannetti Vineyard - Santa Rosa/Forestville - St Francis

 

Jackass Vineyard - Forestville, Russian River Valley - Martinelli

 

Old Hill Ranch - Glen Ellen - Ravenswood, Bucklin

 

 

Hayne

 

Henderlong Ranch - Dry Creek Valley, Healdsburg - Nalle

 

Chianti Station - Geyserville - Seghesio (Oldest Sangiovese in US)

 

101 Vineyard - Geyserville/Healdsburg - Turley - Zinfandel

 

More 101 - Mike Officer of Carlisle

 

Whitten Ranch - Geyserville - Ridge Vineyards Geyserville

 

Pagani Ranch - Kenwood, Sonoma Valley - Bedrock, Carlisle, Seghesio, Ridge Vineyards (Alicante Bouschet)

 

Pagani Ranch Alicante

 

Bedrock Vineyard - Glen Ellen, Sonoma Valley - Bedrock Wine Co, Carlisle, Wind Gap, Enkidu, Ravenswood, Rudius, Wilde Farm

 

More Bedrock - Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co

 

Old Hill Ranch

 

Fredericks Vineyard - Kenwood, Sonoma Valley - Turley

 

Fredericks

 

Pagani Ranch Zinfandel, Mataro, Lenoir, Petite Sirah etc

 

Pagani

 

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Reply by gregt, Dec 6, 2013.

Awesome picks OT!  Nice.

a lot of the "tradition" is invented, and it was invented to convince people that wines already being made mostly by chance were in fact amazing wines. Grapes weren't chosen for great flavor, but for their ability to ripen

Fox - that's absolutely true. I was having dinner with some Spanish friends last night and that comment came up because we were drinking some Rioja and Valbuena from the 80s and 90s. All those "traditional" Rioja houses only date to the later 1800s. Lopez de Heredia is "traditional" because they make the wine the way grandpa made it, but that was revolutionary in its day. Vega Sicilia sold most of their grapes to people in Rioja.

One could even make an almost plausible argument that the last real innovators were the Romans, although Pontac in Bordeaux did his share. But the Romans dragged grapes from one corner of their empire to another and  afigured out things like drying them in the sun for Amarone and they had the wealth of experience that suggested different grapes for different areas. Then came the dark ages and then the birth of the various nation-states and nobody bothered experimenting with grapes - they already had their "indigenous" varieties.

Phylloxera allowed people to reconsider what they planted, and accounts for a lot of things we see today, but again, it wasn't for flavor, it was for practicality, like so much Cab in Bordeaux.

And then don't forget politics. People can grow Garnacha in Rioja and they do and it's a part of many wines, albeit a small part (which Parker famously got wrong). But Cab has been in the area longer. It's just not allowed officially any more because it's not a "Spanish" grape.

And speaking of Spanish grapes, that goes to your Mataro. While considered "Spanish", t was most likely brought in by the Phoenicians. The first written reference to it comes from around the 1500s. The name however, comes from the town of Murviedro near Valencia and the name Mataró comes from the town of Mataró in Cataluña. Mourvèdre is just a corruption of Murviedro.

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Reply by EMark, Dec 6, 2013.

Yes, Darren, Monastrell is the same as Mourvedre.  As GregT explains, so is Mataro.  There probably is a very interesting explanation why the Spaniards have two names for the same thing.  Unfortunately, I do not have it.  I would guess, though, that different regions use the different names.

OT, when did you take that pic of the Hayne Vineyard?  That is the vineyard cited in the F&W article where the 60-year-old Petite Sirah vines were replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon.  On re-reading the article, it clearly states that the PS vines were replaced in a "a portion of . . . Hayne."  The listing for Hayne at the HVS site indicates that it has vines dating back to the 19--oughts.  The entry does not have a chart block, but it is "registered."  To me that suggests that the information that is provided is pretty reliable.

 

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Reply by outthere, Dec 6, 2013.

That photo was taken this year back in like May or June. When Andy Beckstoffer bought Hayne he promised to be a good steward of the land and then promptly tore up about 5 acres and replaced them with Cab. I didn't take a pic of the new cab vines as I thought it was sacrilege. Next week I'll stop by and snap a shot of the carnage. Hayne PS was one of the iconic wines of Turley for years and years.

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Reply by outthere, Dec 6, 2013.

Hayne is basically the entire photo SW of Crane Rd. The pic with the building in the background was taken at the arrow.  The area inside the box was torn up and replanted to Cab.

 

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Reply by EMark, Dec 6, 2013.

Thankfully, Vincent Arroyo continues the to carry the banner for PS.

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Reply by EMark, Jan 14.

Pictures from the Cucamonga Valley:

Lopez Vineyard--SE corner of the intersection of the 210 and 15 Interstates in the city of Fontana:

 

The soil here is quite rocky (similar to that in my back yard).  Fruit (99.9% Zinfandel) from this wine is used by Carol Shelton and Galleano Winery.  Planted in the 19-teens.

 

Galleano Vineyard -- 4321 Wineville Rd, Mira Loma, CA.

 

As you can see, the soil at Galleano is completely sandy.  The sand means that there is no problem with phylloxera and these vines all have their own natural vitis vinifera rootstock.

Also, as you can see, these pics are not nearly as idyllic as the ones that Outthere posts from his patch.

The Galleano winery and tasting room/retail store are right adjacent to this vineyard.

Those are olive trees in front of the building.  It was friggin' windy out there, today.  Many of the pics that I snapped were blurred because the wind was blowing me around.

I did go into the tasting room and tried to engage the guy behind the counter, but he seemed a bit more interested in chatting about micro-breweries with some other people.  I did, however, buy some Zinfandels.  I consider this to be another contribution to the preservation of historic California vineyards.

The fruit from all of these comes from the Galleano Vineyard, although, 20% of the Pioneer's Legedary (second from left) comes from Lopez.

This last picture is a lot about 1/2 mile from the east end of the Ontario Airport runways.  This area used to be covered with vines.  Now it is totally commercial buildings and this patch:

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Reply by EMark, Jan 14.

For some reason or other that last pic would not attach itself to my post.  So, here is another attempt:

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Reply by EMark, Jan 15.

Get a load of this.

In the coffee shop, this morning, I was telling some friends, Kim and Harold, about my picture taking adventures, yesterday.  Kim asked where these vineyards were.  So, I explained how to get to the Galleano winery.  When I told her that you turn left on Wineville Road, she said, "Oh, did you know that the town of Mira Loma used to be called Wineville?"

Well, no, I didn't.  Kim explained that there were a series of pretty gruesome murders in Wineville in the 1920s.  In 1930 they changed the name to Mira Loma to disassociate themselves from the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.  She also said that the 2008 Clint Eastwood-directed movie Changling is based on these murders.

In my net search, I could not find how the WIneville name came to the community.  So, I will have to go with the assumption that it was named after the dominant industry in the area--grape agriculture and winemaking. 

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Reply by napagirl68, Jan 15.

Wow, Emark!  Cool pictures and cool story!   I loved that movie, Changling.  Nothing like the swift justice back in the 1920's-30's!

From your wiki article:  On February 13, 1929, Freeman sentenced Gordon Northcott to death,[23] and he was hanged on October 2, 1930, at San Quentin State Prison, at the age of 23


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