Dry Creek Vineyard
Dry Creek Valley
Suggested Retail: $35
“What’s an Old Vine, you might ask? Fair question. More to the point, what bearing might a vine’s age have on the wine eventually made from its grapes?
“Let’s address the first question. With all the governmental restrictions on what information wine labels must include (and what things cannot be put on them), there is no official definition of ‘Old Vine.’ Age is in the eye of the marketing beholder in charge. So, while it’s possible that wine from much younger vineyards could trade on this romantic-sounding description, California’s wine industry generally considers only vines 50 years or older to qualify.
“in the case of this week’s ‘Pick,’ the 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Vineyard winery, there’s no doubt that the ‘Old Vine’ designation is justified. Zinfandel grapes for this bottling are all from vines at least 95 years old, and some of them older still. A century ago farmers in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County, many of them of Italian heritage, were making wine from Zinfandel grapes. They also grew other varieties, notably Petite Sirah and Carignane, often planted in the same vineyard in what is now referred to as a ‘field blend.’ While Zinfandel was the predominant red grape grown in the Sonoma County of that era, inclusion of smaller quantities of other grapes was thought to make the best wine. The theory continues to this day and our ‘Pick’ from the 2015 vintage includes 22% Petite Sirah and 2% Carignane.
“Normal life expectancy of a vineyard is maybe 30 to 40 years. Vines can continue producing a crop beyond that age, bur their production wanes and more efficient methods of farming grapevines continue to develop. It’s been years since agriculture decided that it was a lot easier to farm grapevines trained to grow on rows of wire, rather than in the more natural, individualistic development that they’d do on their own. Those gnarly-looking relics from the earlier era are now called ‘head-trained’ in a reference to the way they are pruned. So those old Zinfandel vines are harder to farm and they yield fewer tons per acre. Why not replace them with trendier varieties farmed in the modern style, which will probably make more money? The logic was hard to refute and many growers pulled out those old vines.
”However, there were some voices that spoke of the quality of wine made from those old vineyards. The vines reached deep into the ground and could find water whenever they really needed, allowing them to be ‘dry-farmed,’ or grown without irrigation. These old vines were long-established and had achieved a balance in their environment. Wasn’t it conceivable that such plants might produce superior fruit? An evolving sophistication on the part of American wine consumers meant at least some of them were intrigued by wines from these special vineyards. Dry Creek Vineyard is credited with creating the ‘old vine’ definition in 1987. Other wineries have followed the trend.
“Our Pick of the Week, the 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel from Dry Creek Vineyard, harkens to an older style of Zinfandel, albeit it wrapped in a more powerful package. Aromas include berry fruit, a little nutmeg and maybe some subtle herbal aspects, too. In the mouth, this wine initially reveals more berries (blackberries and raspberries, to our taste), then some very dark chocolate in the background. The finish of this Old Vine Zin leaves a dusting of black pepper—a trait so appealing, yet not often found these days. The wine is rich--powerful, yet possessed of subtlety and nuance. It’s pretty much everything a quality Zinfandel needs to be.”
Food Affinity: “While it’s tempting to try to come up with something that would be evocative of an age in which these old vines were first producing wine, let’s keep it simple. Any entrée you might favor with a red wine wouldn’t be wrong. We’re thinking about a T-bone steak, charcoal-grilled to medium-rare and served with a green salad and a big baked potato.”