Note to self: Whenever you hear someone grumble that California lacks the wine pedigree of Europe, remember the day you walked through San Lorenzo vineyard with Pete Seghesio and his boys.
It was one of those midsummer Sonoma County mornings when the fog scares off early and the heat rises at you like exhaust from the dirt. Joe and Will were chasing each other in ATVs around the outskirts of the vines as Pete showed me the oldest patch of grapes in San Lorenzo, a 7-acre parcel near the Russian River in Alexander Valley.
"The deed for the ranch goes back to 1896," said Seghesio, whose great-grandfather Frank Passalacqua paid 10 gold coins for it. The copy of the deed is framed on the wall of his house, which overlooks the vineyard, and it refers to "seven acres of young vines."
Seems to me, 120 years is a pretty damn good pedigree, but then I'm just an upstart. My line of the Fish family has only been around these shores since 1695, just chump change on the European pedigree scale.
I've been in a lot of old Zinfandel vineyards the past few months: Pagani, Hayne, Monte Rosso, Lytton East, just to name some. It's for a story I'm working on, inspired in part by a new organization named the Historic Vineyard Society, a non-profit dedicated to documenting and preserving notable old vines. Folks like Mike Officer of Carlisle Vineyards, David Gates of Ridge and Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock are behind it, so too wine maven Jancis Robinson.
I'm a softy for things historic, and if there's anyone who reviews more Zin in a year than I do, I'd like see their tasting notes and teeth whitening bills. So the Historic Vineyard Society, you might say, had me at hello.
The group has already compiled a list of more than 200 vineyards that were planted before 1960 and has recently launched a website. Only a handful of vineyards have detailed entries so far but the list is expanding.
That day in San Lorenzo I was wondering how these feeble vines, some of which were planted when jowly Grover Cleveland was president, were still producing great wine. And I was also keenly aware that the Seghesio family had just sold their winery, though Pete and his sister Camille held onto San Lorenzo, which they inherited from their late mother Rachel Ann, who was born a Passalacqua.
This Zinfandel vine in San Lorenzo vineyard was likely planted in the 19th century.
A few nights later I opened a bottle of Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel 2009. Grapes from the San Lorenzo ranch go into the county blend, although not from the oldest vines. It retails for $24 but often sells for about $20, and there isn't a more reliable Zin value out there.
As I sipped a glass, my mind was on the past and the future. Whenever you write about old vineyards like these, the story is always unfinished, even when the ink has dried or web page is live. As long as the roots are in the dirt, it's a story in progress.
A hundred and twenty years is not a bad prologue, pedigree-wise.
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