Recognition Beyond Ratings
So I’m sitting around a table listening to Will Bucklin, Jeff Gaffner, and Joel Peterson have a conversation. What do they all have in common? You’d be hard pressed to find three people who have a more hands-on and theoretical knowledge of Old Vine, Field Blend Zinfandels from Sonoma Valley.
I was at the table just for the ride. There was a writer there too who was interviewing the three of them for a story. But you wouldn’t have known it. These three guys were carrying out on a conversation that, shall we say, got to fine points of issue.
For example, the three of them were speculating pretty damn knowledgeably on how the different localized cultures of various parts of late-19th/early-20th century Sonoma were such that the character of field blend vineyards planted at that time reflected the different ethnic make ups and experience of the folks that lived in the localized areas. For example, the character of the field blend vineyards in Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley tend to emphasize different combinations of varieties in part because of the different types of communities that lived in small areas. We know this because some of these vineyards still exist. We also know it because of guys like these three.
Bucklin, Gaffner and Peterson specialize as much in being caretakers and preservationists as they do in winemaking and tending vineyards. These are the guys that deal in 100+ year old vineyards. They think deeply about the meaning of "old vine". But most of all they clearly feel a responsibility to the community of wine and the culture at large to preserve the amazing vineyards they work with and make wine from.
As they talk about these things, swapped stories, thought out loud about the future of Old Vines and field blends, and exchanged information about events and trends that occurred or began 150 years ago it struck me that these true, Old Vine vineyards that remain in Sonoma Valley and other part of California truly deserve a kind of recognition that goes beyond ratings, designations on labels and special corners of collectors’ cellars.
What the true California Old Vine, field blended vineyards need are official status as Historic California
I’ve seen historical landmarkers on the side of the road that refer to broken down buildings barely standing, to places where famous people were born or slept, to places where something happened but there is now no trace.
Buena Vista Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma is a California Historical Landmark. As is the location near the Old Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma. What’s different about Old Hill Ranch, Barricia Vineyard, Casa Santinamaria Vineyard, Pagani Ranch, Rossi Vineyard, and Shaw Vineyard is that they are truly LIVING history sites. These vineyards produce grapes in largely the same way they produced grapes for the people that planted them more than 100 years ago. They are windows into the culture of the immigrants to the region and the society of early Sonoma County.
How the Cabernet producers of California could ever muster the cajones to oppose the designation of Zinfnadel as "The Official California Grape" I’ll never know. Equally puzzling would be any argument against designating these historical vineyards as Historical California Landmarks, plaques and all. Someone should start a movement to do just that.
The first step would be to put Bucklin, Gaffner and Peterson in a room together, let them start talking, record it, then give that recording to the folks who make the decisions on Historical Landmarks and have them listen to it as they walk the Old Vine vineyards.