Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lodi Native: Missing Half the Story When It Comes to Old Vine Glory

Attending the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi last week, I was happy to learn more about Lodi's old vine Zinfandels.

Over the past three years, I've been intrigued and enchanted by the Historic Vineyard Society's annual tours. This year the HVS tour of Russian River vines, including Limerick Lane, was incredibly special. So was the one in Napa Valley two years ago. It's also been a pleasure to take the old vine tour at Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma County and hang out in Grgich Hills historic Cabernet vineyard.

My all time favorite is Galleano Winery, which has old vines, down in Cucamonga Valley. About 300 acres of old vine Zin grow gracefully in total desert conditions, dry farmed and organic.

The magic of those old, gnarled vines casts a spell that that inspires and engages us. And the wines that come from them speak softly, subtly, beautifully.

Watching my fellow wine bloggers conference in Lodi last week discover Lodi's ancient vines was a sight to behold - comrades in arms. They snap-snap-snapped photos, tweeted on Twitter and blogged away about these Lodi treasures. They were as enamored of them as I was - well, except that maybe I was and then maybe I wasn't.

Lodi's old vine vintners are now making a play to showcase these old vine wines in a new way. Lodi Wine has just announced the new Lodi Native project - a regional effort to make old vines wines that are vinified in a similar manner in the cellar - using only minimal interventionist ways and vinifying only on native yeast. Hey - native yeast. It's trendy. And it's authentic. It's hard to imagine wine being made when these vines were first planted - as far back as the 1880's - with added yeast. No, back then, people trusted the grapes and they had plenty of healthy yeasts because of the way they farmed those vines. No pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. No sirree.

So Lodi's on to something - but oddly, it's only paying attention to the second half of the story - the part where the grapes come to the winery. What about the first half of the story - the way the vines are farmed?

Bechtold Vineyard, the oldest vines in Lodi, date back to the 1880's
Photo: Lodi Wine
If you really want to honor these ancient vines - and they are unique in all the world - might I suggest it would be a sign of veneration to start farming them organically, as they would have been back in the day?

And what about watering? Though most are dry farmed, I've heard of one famous old vine vineyard, dating back well before 1900, that is being flood irrigated on occasion. Really?

These beautiful old vines are planted far enough apart and old enough to have very deep root systems, and, if left to their own devices, strong immune systems.

Two of our most prestigious old vine producers - Turley and Ridge - who have built quite a reputation for old vine wines -  farm their old vine vineyards around the state organically. Ridge has just certified all of its old vines. Turley certified all the vineyards they own years ago. (They say they can't certify all of them because they lease land from some owners who would prefer not to be certified, though Turley says the vines they lease are farmed organically. At least they are doing what they can wherever they can.)

Of the six vineyards currently enrolled in Lodi Native, none is certified organic. So, please, Lodi Native winemakers, think this through. If you want us to pay attention to your gorgeous old vines, don't put herbicides, fungicides and insecticides on the ancient ones. Reconsider what it means to get back to your roots (pun intended). Get back to real, organically farmed wine grapes - that's historically authentic. And by their sheer existence, these vines have shown that they've got what it takes to stay rooted and thrive.

I'm happy to say there's one Lodi vintner who is on the right path. That would be Lucas Winery, which has three acres of vines dating back to the 1930's. They make a beautiful ZinStar wine from those vines ($50).

I'll raise a glass to those vines - and hope that Lodi Native will see beyond the cellar door and back to the vineyard. Microbes made this magic happen - yielding the fruit of your old vines. Feed that magic.

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