The Importance of California Heirloom Wines

When early immigrants came to California and started planting vineyards in the early-1850’s they had to rely on the vineyard even more than we do now. Now, with all of our technology— small tanks, efficient presses, pneumatic pumps, etc. we have the ability to pick varietals separately and blend a final wine. Back then, in the dusty days of horse driven plows and dank cellars where gravity was the only aid, the blend was concocted in the vineyard by planting different varietals in an attempt to create a balanced wine.

Almost always the predominate varietal in these “field blends” was Zinfandel. Zin is to California field blends what Grenache is to Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Sangiovese is to Tuscany; the structure of fruit and spice around which the other varietals lay deeply colored foundations and buttresses of flying aromatics. These varietals—Petite Sirah, Carignane, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, Alicante Bouschet, Valdigue’, Peloursin, Serene, Petite Bouschet, Grand Noir de la Calmette, and many others—when combined with Zinfandel create the most unique, distinctly Californian, wine there is.

These distinctive wines were nearly eradicated through the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, as the focus on varietal wine caused many growers to rip out the interplanted varietals from field blended vineyards to ensure they qualified as varietal Zinfandel.

As a youth I had the privilege to work with some ancient vineyards whose stubborn owners refused to pull the “others.” These vineyards, which were MAYBE, 75% Zinfandel, made wines with greater intensity, complexity, and completeness than anything else we brought in.

It is my hope to reinvent and redefine what the “truly” Californian wine is. Though Zinfandel, which is truly our unique treasure in this sun-drenched state is part of the equation, my firm feeling is that wines with greater levels of those varietals in which our forebears placed so much faith—Pets, Carignane, Alicante, and others—truly allow a wine of distinction and greatness to come into being.

As such, I make these wines to stand on par with the greatest blends of the world— with Chateauneuf and Chianti, with Marcel Deiss wines from Alsace, and the blends of Priorat in Spain and from the Douro and Dao in Portugal. They are meant to express their region and their vineyard—whether that is Lorenzo’s in Dry Creek or Bedrock in Sonoma Valley. Above all they are a pure expression of California most unique vinicultural asset—the ancient field blend.