VOLUME 15
Featured in this issue

The Personal Wine Curator v3.0

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Old Vines and Quality Wines: A Question of Ageism?

Often, a wine’s label will indicate the status of the age of the vines from which the wine is made. Producers use terms like “Old Vines” or “Vielles Vignes” to indicate that this is an important aspect to the wine’s overall quality (although no universal guidelines exist for when a vine is considered “old!”) The prevailing industry opinion is that better wine is often the result of the use of grapes from older vines. But why is that? And why do some very young vines also produce the best quality wines from a vineyard? Perhaps we assign a higher status to older vines based on a perceived symmetry with the belief that the greatest wines are also the oldest ones. It is true however that vines which have lived and struggled for many years will yield fewer grapes; and the lower the yield, the higher the quality of fruit. Another explanation is that older plants are less vigorous (hardly shocking news for anyone past the age of 22) and consequently allow for better sun exposure on the fruit and leaves, creating a tastier grape. As for certain young vines contributing to great wine, well the same sort of circumstances occur in reverse. A new vine in its first year of fruiting has a very good balance of fruit and leaves which allows for the same kind of great sun exposure. As the vine gets a little older, shade becomes an issue when the plant becomes more vigorous.

The Blend’s Monthly Featured Producer: SAUCELITO CANYON

This family owned and operated winery is located in a remote canyon west of Arroyo Grande in California’s Central Coast. Proprietors Bill and Nancy Greenough harvest some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the Central Coast, which date back to the early 1880s. Commercial production began back in 1982 after the Greenoughs spent eight years resurrecting the vines from nearly 40 years of neglect and overgrowth, developing clones and expanding their vineyard.

For the last ten years, Saucelito Canyon has also produced wines from their plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Additionally, this year saw the introduction of Sauvignon Blanc from a neighboring vineyard. Saucelito Canyon’s vines are essentially dry-farmed, a bold move for a California winery, with some drip irrigation being used for experimental purposes on their latest plantings.

The gifted winemaker Amy Freeman, who comes from a family of Central Coast wine makers and growers, is completely hands-on, working in the vineyard as well as applying her techniques to these limited production wines.

Recommended Wine:

wine labelWinery owner Bill Greenough says that his old Zinfandel vines produce more subtle flavors than the newer ones. As his are the oldest, most established Zinfandel vines in the Arroyo Grande Valley, he ought to know. Greenough also says that “vine age gives wines added consistency every year, as the weather seems to have slightly less impact on an established vine’s final product.” That consistency is what inspired Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer to call this wine “one of California's Greatest Zins, bar none.”

The 2006 Saucelito Canyon Arroyo Grande Zinfandel is described in the winery’s tasting notes as having “a nose of ripe red raspberry and black plum … accompanied by a hint of wet shale minerality, coriander, red licorice, and worn leather.” We find little to disagree with in this description, but what especially delights us is the purity of expression of the grape variety and the lovely overall balance. Production is limited. Pairs well with anything prepared with barbeque sauce, aged Banon cheese, fajitas, Hungarian goulash, Morrocan lamb, and cold roast chicken, to name but a few. About $25.00 USD.

Catalog this wine in The Personal Wine Curator cellar software like this:

  • Producer: Saucelito Canyon
  • Wine Name/Appellation: Zinfandel
  • Vintage: 2006
  • Varietal:Zinfandel
  • Type: Red
  • Vineyard/Sub-sub:
  • Sub-region: Arroyo Grande
  • Region: California (Central Coast)
  • Country: United States
  • Body: Full
  • Distinction:Zinfandel
  • Drink after: 2008
  • Drink by: 2012

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