What makes you fall in love? What is it about a particular place that pulls on your heart strings?
I fell in love with old vineyards the year I worked my first harvest. I was lucky enough to work with winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson at Bedrock Wine Co.-who knows more about California's historic vineyards than anyone else out there. These aren't just old-many of the vineyards were planted in the 1800's.
Waking up at dawn, steaming cup of coffee in hand, to watch grapes picked at Monte Rosso Vineyard. Driving the back roads of Mendocino, with Joni Mitchell on my car stereo, praying that my GPS would lead me to a little magic patch of old vines. Walking through Nervo Vineyard and knowing that Italian immigrants, probably a lot like my family, planted these fields over a hundred years ago. That harvest I found myself falling in love.
Why do old vineyards matter? Old vines matter because our history matters. They matter because treating the earth with reverence matters. They matter because, in this age of newer, faster, better-we need to remember to tune into what the past teaches us. There's a real wisdom in the old ways if we slow down enough to listen.
Many of these historic vineyards were ripped out years ago, replanted with whatever was in fashion at the moment. A few remain, vestiges of the past, preserved by those who know what treasures they are. When you walk through 120 year old own-rooted Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa, sandwiched between a PG&E plant and a fast food restaurant, you are struck by what a miracle it is. There it stands-a snapshot of a bygone era-still making brilliant wines.
Gnarled old vines yield less as they get older, but what they do yield is incredibly soulful and expressive of place. Every time I've walked through one of these ancient vineyards, I'm struck by it's individuality. Like snowflakes, no two are alike. Many have been adopted by the new guard of California winemakers-who are committed to dry-farming and minimal intervention to allow their uniqueness to shine through.
The fact that they still exist in all their glorious uniqueness--that somehow they managed to survive wars, encroaching development and changing tastes is a small, beautiful miracle. Just like true love, these vineyards are something special and ephemeral. Just like true love, when you find it, you want to drink it in and enjoy every sip. xoxo