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This post outlines Erin's journey from a Rhone Rangers Professional Study Travel Grant, awarded by the James Beard Foundation. To learn more about this scholarship, or to apply yourself, visit the James Beard Foundation's page that details their Scholarships and Grants.
I just returned from an incredible journey through California, visiting several producers who focus specifically on Rhone varieties. The journey began in southern California and ended in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. As the trip progressed, it became clear that this was more than just a wine trip up California's coast... this was a journey through time that began with some of California's newest vineyards, and ended with some of its oldest. So, this post will start at the end of the trip, which was a beginning for Rhone varieties in California.
The Gold Rush and Rhone Varieties in the Sierra Foothills
Though much of California's deep wine history points to missionaries and sacramental wine, a whole other chapter can be found in the Gold Rush days. The influx of miners from around the world led to the pop up of many towns and, indirectly, the infrastructure of civilization, such as food and beverage production. Miners needed something to drink.
Lodi's Bechtold Vineyard
Head to Lodi, and you'll find one of the most interesting vineyards in all of California: The Bechthold Vineyard, originally planted in 1886. Here, gnarly old cinsault vines stand sentinel and make some of the most interesting wine in California.
Geyserville's Treasure Trove of Old Vines....
Geyserville is home to a wealth of old vines that, like the Bechthold vineyard, trace their history back to the 1880s.
As I asked around about some of the older vineyards in the area, by happenstance I ran into Will Thomas, Viticulturist at Ridge, who pointed out some of the older vines in Whitton Ranch's 'Old Patch.'
For a wine geek, this enthralling plot of ancient vines is where you want to be. It was incredible to stand among vines that are older than my great grandparents. After all, what other agricultural product can service four generations over the course of its life cycle? Being around vines this old sparks a true communion with the past. Planted as a field blend in the 1880s, this patch is predominantly zinfandel, with other Rhone varieties mixed in, such as grenache, syrah, and carignane.
Old Vines at Lytton Springs
An Ancient French Grape in Paso Robles
Living History in Santa Barbara Country
A Jewel in the Santa Maria Valley
Two of the first winemakers to work with the Black Bear fruit were Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat) and Bob Lindquist (Qupe), who worked together at Zaca Mesa before founding their own labels. Today, they work with fruit at Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley. As two bellwether producers for the larger Santa Barbara Country, Clendenen and Lindquist have written (an continue to write) an important chapter for California wine.
When you arrive at Bien Nacido, you unmistakably enter a special place. To get here, a long, hot, semi-flat drive suddenly opens up into a Brigadoon-like valley, with round mountains that rise up around a valley that winds through a lush paradise of vines that spill down the hillsides to the mixed crops below that push up from the valley floor.
New Ground in Santa Barbara
California: South to North is a Journey into Historic Vineyards
Juxtaposing the vineyards in the south against the old vineyards in the north, you'll find great differences in age. The producers in the north who work with the old vines shepherd the established vineyards through the season and work with a framework handed down to them from the past. The producers in the south are building such a framework that will hopefully, one day, be the future of Santa Barbara Country wine.
I’m Erin, and this is my wine blog. Here, you'll find information about wines from around the world, and Virginia.