Historic Vineyards HR9, the Capitol Tasting

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As I progressed through the wines at the Taste of Oakville, an appellation in Napa Valley, I noticed that a good part of the day had already past.  I had also been invited to a wine tasting at the State Capitol building in Sacramento later that afternoon.  I definitely did not want to miss the Sacramento tasting for more than one reason.  Some very intriguing and meaningful wines would be poured there, wines produced from old vines and field blends.  More importantly, the tasting was to honor passage of HR9 the same day, a Resolution by the California State Legislature, which was designed to recognize California’s historic, very old producing vineyards.  So I departed a little early from Oakville taking State Route 80 for the 60-minute ride to Sacramento.

HR9 (House Resolution 9) was passed by the California State Assembly on April 15, 2013.  The Resolution was sponsored by Tom Daly (District 69) with the assistance of Staff Member David Miller and the Historic Vineyard Society.  Passage of the Resolution is an important first official step in sanctioning California’s historic vineyards.

The Resolution extols the virtues of “California’s living and producing historic vineyards, and reminds of their significance and place in the present day.  “These historic vineyards provide an important living repository for wine grape budwood and genetic material; and often provide a living window on past vineyard practices…”

HR 9 also speaks of field blends, “The interplanted field blends of grape varieties that were a common practice of the immigrant farmers who planted California vineyards in the past characterize an era of agricultural practice and impart wine attributes that are uniquely Californian”.

The delicious, unique complexity and harmony of field blend wines never fails to amaze me.  HR9 serves to raise awareness of these old vine, historic vineyards.  Far too many have already been ripped out and lost to the pressures of modern civilization.

The Historic Vineyard Society (HVS) played an important part in getting the California State Assembly to pass HR9.  This non-profit, 501 C-3 organization came into being in 2011 when Morgan Twain Peterson, son of Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson, and Tegan Passalacqua, the winemaker for Turley Wine Cellars, cofounded the group with the mission of preserving California’s currently producing, historic wine vineyards.  HVS has apparently attracted attention in places other than California too. The noted British wine writer Jancis Robinson is a member of the Board of Directors of HVS.

The Society has placed onto its rolls greater than 200 vineyards throughout the state designated as historic.  Many of these are at risk of extinction, mainly due to economic and growth pressures.  Sadly, more than a few have already expired.  HVS would like to see tax legislation come to pass that would give incentives to farmers to keep their historic vines in the soil and producing.

All of the wineries at the occasion produce wines from old vines.  Wineries pouring included:

  • Dave Pramuk represented Robert Biale Vineyards, a Napa Valley winery specializing in vineyard designated Zinfandel, and also producing Petite Sirah wines.
  • Mike Officer poured for Carlisle Winery & Vineyards, a Sonoma County winery specializing in the production of vineyard designated Zinfandels and red Rhone style wines.
  • Joel Peterson represented the winery he founded, Ravenswood in Sonoma County, famed for their burly Zinfandels from a variety of locations and vineyards.
  • Morgan Twain Peterson, Joel’s son, did the honors for Bedrock, the Sonoma County winery he founded that produces a range of wines, reflecting, as he says, his own eclectic tastes and broad palate.
  • David Gates poured for Ridge, the winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains with a broad portfolio, especially distinguished for their vineyard designates, old vines, and field blends.
  • Will Buckland represented Bucklin Old Hill Ranch, a winery in Sonoma County best known for their dry farmed Zinfandel-based field blend, and the oldest vineyard in Sonoma County, established in 1885.
  • Turley Wine Cellars shared their wines, and their winemaker Tegan Passalacqua poured.  They produce a variety of bottlings, and state on their website “We aim to be stewards of some of California’s most historic vineyards.”
  • Deborah Hall represented her own winery, Gypsy Canyon, from the AVA of Santa Rita Hills, pouring her Ancient Vine Angelica, a dessert wine, which was exotic, pure, and gentle on the palate.  The wine was produced from her Mission vines planted in 1887.

Attendance was good for this unique and meaningful wine tasting, including some members of the California Legislature .  The event was unique in the wines poured, and their associated history.  The tasting was meaningful, demonstrating the need for awareness and care for California’s vinous history, evidencing aspirations that others will join in this crusade to appreciate and preserve what is slowly being lost.  I hope that old vine plantings in California and everywhere will be recognized and sheltered to preserve their vinous legacy, and to provide a cultural inheritance.

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