Century vines in the Shaw Vineyard at Kunde Estate Winery in the Sonoma Valley
OLD VINE ZINFANDEL: HISTORY IN A WINEGLASS
Old Vine Zinfandel is a Sonoma County treasure. The slants and slopes of angled mountainsides—where artistically twisted, arthritic-looking, gnarly vines were planted by pioneers fifty, eighty, and even more than 100 years ago—are now home to vines that stingily offer up fruit that is transmogrified into wines that are concentrated, intense, and identifiable.
These vines are survivors. When most vines are commercially viable for about 25 years, these old vines have lived through two battles with phylloxera, prohibition and several periods of consumer popularity fluctuations. Through it all, these vines and the wine made from them, truly reflect Sonoma County and the different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) where they still thrive.
“Old vine Zinfandel should be preserved and honored as part of our past,” says Dr. Jim Wolpert, University of California at Davis. “They are a national treasure and should be treated with reverence like our old redwoods and oak trees.”
Dr. Wolpert has been studying old vine Zinfandels for more than 15 years and was instrumental in setting up the Oakville Experimental Vineyard that is owned and operated by the Department of Viticulture and Enology at University of California Davis. The 30-acre vineyard has more than 90 old vine Zinfandel samples from 57 vineyards located in 14 California counties from Mendocino to Riverside. Of the 57, 31 are from Sonoma County, says Dr. Wolpert. These vines are studied and each year a “Hertitage Vineyard Wine” is made from the vines in association with Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP). The current 2004 release was made by Kent Rosenblum of Rosenblum Cellars, 2003 was made by Ridge’s Paul Draper.
“I love the heritage of old vine Zinfandel in Sonoma County, says Zinfandel specialist Ondine Chattan, winemaker at XYZin and formerly with Ridge and Cline. “The wines appeal to a wide range of consumers and are very food friendly and can be enjoyed with everything from pizza to fine cuisine.”
Joel Peterson states, “Old vine Zinfandel represents the most unique and traditional wine of California, and produce some of the best and intense wines when produced by top flight producers.” Kent Rosenblum believes that old vine Zinfandel is “the heart and soul of California wine.”
What Does "Old Vine" Mean?
There is no legal definition of “Old Vine” Zinfandel
Joel Peterson, founder/winemaker of Ravenswood, defines them as the following:
- 0-10 years: young vines
- 10-50 years: middle age
- 50-80: old vines
- over 80 years: ancient
David Gates, vice president of vineyard management at Ridge Vineyards believes that old vines should be 50 years or older. Much of the Zinfandel fruit that is the base of most of Ridge Zinfandel wines is from vines that are pre-prohibition.