Where Have All The Century-Old Vines Gone?
(The Hidden Story)
>The prices for the most prestigious wines of the world commonly start in the $150 range & go up into the multiple hundreds per bottle & even beyond.
>The big American magazines for American consumers have room to print pages & pages of ratings for wines from small Obscure Foreign Labels that are $200+, $300+, $600+ even over $1,000 & they sell here!
Not Just from the Old World European, but from also the “new world”, Americans do pay hundreds of dollars per bottle for the most special new world wines for example Australia honors & preserves their heritage; Old Vines in a wine called Grange (when Americans were planting Zinfandel @ the end of the nineteenth century, they were planting Syrah.) Scattered in small blocks, the USA still shares the distinction of having some of the oldest vines in the world but we do not honor them in a way that will motivate people to continue farming & preserving them as they deserve. If fact, we are encouraging their destruction! I recently saw a “big” Zinfandel issue from one of the big wine magazines that mentioned the current owners of a great 100+ year old block near me here in Sonoma County‘s Russian River Valley, with who’s grapes a particular “winery” started with & build his reputation, was “going to do something else with the block” --- Another highly acclaimed rare old block gone & the magazine didn’t elaborate! It’s the same predicament that even those of us who’s grapes have helped wineries get the highest Zinfandel Ratings for well over a decade are in.---I know exactly what is happening & why: they will probably re plant it to Pinot Noir!
1) These old blocks are far more costly to farm than a modern conventional Vineyard.
2) It is easier to get the price for the fruit between double & triple that of 100+ year-old Zinfandel & somewhere between double & quadruple the yield!
---Bottom line trade an obsolete, hard & expensive to farm vineyard that has a low profit margin (if profitable at all) with one that costs less to farm & has a far greater return. (In other areas of Sonoma County it might be planted to Cabernet but the results are the same.)
The sad thing is that Americans will easily pay hundreds of $ for Pinot Noirs & Cabernets from these new vineyards of which there are many thousands of similar acres while the 100+ year old Zinfandel that was truly rare un-replicate-able & quickly disappearing from the finest growing regions as fast as ever. Buyers, & consumers are still shy to see Zinfandel even near $50 & wineries don’t want to bother marketing the truth not to mention that there is no legal definition of “Old Vine” & since some perceive that name to have a value, the grape source can be over 100 or “nearly 20” … These blocks of 100+ year old vines are mostly not owned by the wineries. Even though they know the fruit source is their most important factor in the quality of their wine, American wineries first market their brand & winemaker &/or owner – preferably the stuff they own & control - some also like to abuse undefined terms & names – ink is cheap vineyards are expensive.
-----I heard there is a move by the TTB to possibly make “Old Vine” mean 40 but vineyards planted in the 1970’s, though probably obsolete by today’s standards, had the benefits of a tremendous amount of pre plant technology, a foundation far more easily updated, the use of modern powered machines, & at that time most were planting the big commodity Davis clone of Zinfandel that has giant clusters, little color & low flavors--- It was great for white Zinfandel. This really wouldn’t help the image of vineyards that were growing before the Model T was introduced!
…. Everyone down the line is to blame for the situation but
Let’s put it in fair perspective:
If we were to start from an old & commonly used as a fair; bottle-price-formula, for wine grape pricing & base the per ton price for the Old Zinfandel grapes simply on what they would get in this neighborhood for the top $ Grape; Pinot Noir, on the same land, not consider the extra labor & fuel to run the obsolete field & the fact that it yields less than ¼ to ½ the fruit. As priced in the California Grape Crush Report for 2007, extrapolating everything evenly, going backwards the bottle price would be $103 and if you consider everything else in order to be 100% fair to the farmer we are talking double that. Not everybody’s daily wine but squarely in the ballpark! With all the modern Pinot Noir & Cabernet going in that range & above, shouldn’t America’s truly Rare, Finest, & Oldest at least be in that range too? (With Grange in the $200s shouldn’t our own be between $103 & $206?) If we continue to treat the finest 100+ year Old Vine Zinfandels as low class, an American wine treasure will disappear forever.