We made our first Zinfandel over 20 years ago, from grapes grown on the warm Russian River benchlands near Ukiah. We soon realized that there were many seasoned growers tending old vines on hillsides, but since there was little demand then for Mendocino grapes, the fruit was typically, and begrudgingly, sold to larger wineries in Napa or Sonoma at bargain prices. Our plan was simple: find a potentially good site and, if the wine produced was outstanding for a couple of seasons, offer the grower a long term contract at a fair price. We've now made wine from over a dozen Zinfandel vineyards in the Ukiah area; so far we've found three vineyards, with vines older than many of Navarro's customers, that can be counted on to make delightful wine every vintage.
The average age for the heritage Zinfandel vines that produced fruit for this bottling is about 70 years. Older vines on rocky soils or hillsides generally have an extensive root system. They don't bear as much fruit as younger vines, but with a deep root system, these old vines can deliver wines with intense fruit flavors.
Jim Klein (left) visiting Ed Berry's Zinfandel vineyard prior to harvest. This ancient vineyard produces delicious fruit, thanks in part to Ed's diligence.
Excuse the anthropomorphism, but old vines seem like old humans; all the affectations are stripped away with age and the essence of the personality seems to dominate. Old vines can produce fruit that, in addition to tasting delicious, possess an interesting, well-etched flavor profile, vintage after vintage. The wine produced from Al Tollini's vines, planted in 1932, always has earthy aromas that hint of cereal grain, mushroom and truffles. Ed Berry's vines were planted in 1948; the plants can be as thick as a man's thigh and we are always delighted at the intense, delicious raspberry-blackberry fruit these vines deliver. We produced 150 barrels of Zinfandel in 2012, all from vines over 60 years of age; the most flavorful 20 barrels were blended to produce this Old Vine Cuvée. Gold Medal winner. Best of Class. Best Zinfandel.