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Doug - HVS

A message from the publisher:

As a native Californian, I grew up learning how our state was settled by europeans beginning with the Spanish missions and the land stampede that came with that news of gold being discovered. The migration west brought a rich list of cultures; Hungarian, French, Finnish, Italian, German, Austrian, Swiss and Portuguese who had in common a history of farming and viticulture. Once these people established themselves in either the Sierra Foothills, or the farmlands of the North Coast they developed vineyards of their own using what they knew from the old country. There were no university classes, no soil science or irrigation engineers to guide these pioneers. They planted rows based on the width of the horse teams that pulled the plow, put their tongue to the dirt to test for pH and relied on generations of experience on how to deal with pests and diseases. They established a patchwork of vineyards across the state beganning in the late 1850’s running from the Central Valley to Dry Creek Valley dedicated to growing grapes, initially for personal consumption and ultimately destined for commercal sale. 

By the time I started learning about the place I was born, over a hundred years had transpired since the Gold Rush and suburban development was clearly on the minds of the growing baby-boomer generation. Cities like Santa Rosa and Napa began to spill over into tracts that had once supprted an agrarian culture. Ugly old gnarly vines were knocked down to make way for the surveyors plotting out the subdivisions, malls, courthouses and playgrounds - the American dream.  Not appreciated at the time was what these vines represented. Unlike plots of wheat, hay, corn or spinich, grape vines take years to develop character specific to where they are planted and once they are gone need to be re-established. Untold numbers of acres of unique viticultural DNA disappeared as sodium lamps replaced smudge pots.

Fast forward to 2010 and a group of young winemakers from Carlisle, Bedrock and Turley help create the Historic Vineyard Society; a non profit organization to develop a registry of old-vine plant material in California. As a writer, I am interested in what goes into a bottle of wine. As a native Californian, I believe there is much work to be done to help preserve this plant DNA and educate consumers about what makes these wines unique.

Doug Wilder, publisher - pdwr

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Entries in Morgan Peterson (2)


Doug Wilder interviews Morgan Twain-Peterson of HVS

On December 14th, I had a chance to spend some time with Morgan Twain-Peterson, board member of Historic Vineyard Society. Well worth watching! Doug Wilder, publisher, pdwr

Walking among the ancient vines with Historic Vineyard Society

Cover Story:: Historic Vineyard Society – ancient vines and the men who love them Doug Wilder originally published July, 2011, by Doug Wilder

It was 1991 and I had only been in the wine business for about a year. In that short time, however, I had already developed interest in Zinfandel produced by Ridge and Ravenswood. It would be difficult to find two producers further apart in their philosophies on how wine should be created; Ridge, made by Paul Draper (since 1969) and founded in the early ’60s by scientific types from Stanford Research Institute, approached winemaking with his head, and his winery had Silicon Valley literally at its feet. From their perch 500 meters high on Monte Bello Ridge, the valley sparkled during the night and the winery itself was quickly becoming a jewel-like icon. Up in Sonoma Valley cattle country, Joel Peterson was setting up Ravenswood, (led by his heart) and both producers began to produce a continuum of extraordinary Zinfandel from old vines, rare sites of enormous character that seldom exceeded 600-700 cases.

I remember reading the reviews from Charlie Olken’s Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wines on both producers and they always received the highest marks. Curiously, they were both after the same thing, using the heritage vineyard sources in the north coast to make wines with great

character that like the vineyards themselves; some planted in the early 1880s, would stand the test of time. It was at this time I bought a book by David Darlington, called Angels’ Visits - an inquiry into the mystery of Zinfandel, a chronicle of the origins of Zinfandel arriving in America. Darlington in this heavily researched book, that in some ways read like a spy mystery, delves deeply into Ridge and Ravenswood, their winemakers, influences, approaches and ultimately the similar success making what still remain iconic wines even though both are now under corporate ownership. I absolutely devoured this book - turning pages while a bottle of Ridge Geyserville, or Ravenswood Belloni sat at my elbow. Since it pretty much unfolds in the San Francisco bay area, where I was born, it was no trouble to envision places like Palo Alto, Berkeley and Sonoma.

The vineyards sought out by Draper and Peterson, among others, were established by immigrants from Hungary, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland and Germany in the decades following the gold rush and were usually planted on their own rootstock.Yet a typical vineyard could potentially contain well over a dozen varieties of grape, from Golden Chasselas to Zinfandel. It was standard practice to harvest and crush everything together, thus each vineyard would create something unique. How and why they chose what to plant, and more specifically, where a particular vine would be located are questions that have the modern-day stewards of these vineyards scratching their heads over. Unfortunately many of these old vineyards have been torn out in the name of progress. It hasn’t been uncommon to lose them to housing developments, especially in the pro-growth counties of Sonoma and Santa Clara over the last generation. However a good amount was lost during prohibition when it was legal to ship by rail, lugs of wine grapes for home winemaking. Because of its tendency to develop rot when subjected to long, unrefrigerated travel cross country, wineries tore out the 40 year-old Zinfandel vines and adapted their production to new plantings of Alicante Bouschet, a grape with thicker skin that would tend to survive the rigors intact. In the last forty years staunch advocates of farming old vineyards have developed into what many would consider the elite class of producers. Along with Ridge and Ravenswood, other wineries such as Acorn, Arnot-Roberts, Bedrock, Robert Biale, Rosenblum, Carlisle, Seghesio, Trentadue, Turley, and more make some of the best arguments for sustaining these sites by putting superior wines on the table. Despite these efforts, there wasn’t a central repository of viticultural evidence in existence that would serve as a consumer resource.

Historic Vineyard Society

A recently formed 501c3 non-profit known as Historic Vineyard Society, whose mission statement is: “accomplished through educating the wine-drinking public on the very special nature of this precious and depleting state, national and global resource” holds forth the best hope to make this happen. With a project team consisting of:

David Gates; Ridge, Mike Officer; Carlisle, Tegan Passalacqua; Turley, Morgan Twain-Peterson; Bedrock, Jancis Robinson; Author and Wine Critic, and Mike Dildine; at large.

They are deliberately building a robust registry of documented old-vine vineyards that hopefully will serve as a model for the grape-growing world. I have known Mike Dildine through other channels for the last several years and recently received an invitation from him to attend what was essentially the first field day/dinner for the group. Seeing the weight of the project team (Twain- Peterson was my Winemaker of the Year in 2010, on the strength of his stunning field blends) along with Carlisle, Ridge and Turley plus the involvement of the peerless writer and critic, Jancis Robinson was just the icing on top to the raison d’être of protecting this heritage resource.

In early July, about a dozen of us, mostly growers, along with author, David Darlington, wine columnist, Mike Dunne and I convened at Mike Officer’s Estate Vineyard, formerly the Pelletti Vineyard, in west Santa Rosa, planted in 1927 to a field blend. The walk and talk was led by Mike, Morgan and David who each provided an enormous amount of information that I knew was important, from a viticultural standpoint, that I didn’t even attempt to write down. I spent time taking pictures of these hulking, wild-maned vines that either roared like elephants on their ‘power pole’ trunks or undulated on the ground like a stretched out python. Morgan and Mike knew the ampelography of the leaf shapes - cold.

From there we drove north to Alexander Valley where we visited the Whitton Ranch, owned by the Trentadue Family with the grapes contracted to Ridge.The vines here were planted as far back as 1882 (in the instance of The Old Patch) and support a myriad of varieties that Morgan and Mike seem all too eager to jump into and catalog each vine. Between the vines were what I would probably describe as ‘progressive cover crop’; essentially an eco-system that continues to provide habitat to beneficial insect populations throughout the growing season, as one type of cover dies, it is replaced by another. The current flavor of the month happens to be wild carrot, daucus carota offering a pit stop to spider mite predators. It is a weed that grows everywhere, but here it is used as a tool to help sustain a healthy vineyard.

From here,Tegan guided us to the Turley 101 Vineyard, which is literally in a shallow swale at the edge of the off-ramp north of Whitton Ranch. All the work in here is done by hand from weeding to irrigation from a watering can. Immediately adjacent to this sliver of a vineyard is a block for Turley’s Juvenile bottling. After a full afternoon of walking around this divine dirt, we were all hungry, and more than a bit thirsty. After a quick detour through what is known as Stone Ranch (a little spur road with barns that look like they are straight out of the 1910’s) simply because we could cruise by yet more old vines, it wasn’t more than five minutes until we lined up in front of Ridge Lytton Springs, a facility that I was visiting for the first time. After David Gates gave us a quick overview of how the vineyard was laid out and its history, we repaired to the tasting room where we were joined by Joel Peterson, Morgan’s dad. After tasting through wines including 1988 Kalin Semillon (the current release, from Livermore, 2009 Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc Old Vines and 2010 Bedrock Mourvedre Rose from 120 year-old vines, and posing for the posterity shots, we were ready to sit down for an expansive carnitas and pollo spread (which stuffed everyone there, I believe). I found myself sitting with David Darlington, Morgan and Joel at one end of the table and a collection of old-vine reds, spanning over 20 years were on deck. The one constant, regardless of age or producer was the intense purity in the wines (even the 1994 Ravenswood Old Hill magnum that Joel detected some TCA in). The evening was capped off with a trio of dessert wines from Morgan Peterson’s Bedrock; a botritized Semillon, Gypsy Canyon proprietor, Deborah Hall (who came up from Santa Barbara for the event) brought her fortified Angelica. They were joined by host Ridge’s Geyserville Essencia. All were beautiful wines.

The reason for getting together was to kick off this ambitious and groundbreaking project and I intend to support it anyway I can going forward. The preservation of this historic resource, the way things used to be was clearly the message of the evening. When I was walking past the gate, I discovered that Joel Peterson wasn’t driving a pickup truck, but rather an all-electric Tesla Roadster. Clearly his heart is still in the right place.

Select this link for more information on the Historic Vineyard Society.