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The Old Hill Ranch - Sonoma’s Greatest Vineyard?


I write this in the middle of a trip to California, the primary purpose of which was to taste Zinfandel. You see I love Zinfandel, think it’s the country’s greatest wine in fact. There is more diversity with Zin, plantedas it is basically throughout the state, than any other wine. Not only is it planted throughout the state but it hasin fact found some pretty terrific sites all through central and northern California. It is nothing if not adaptable.

I’ll follow up soon with an actual article on Zinfandel but today I am side tracked. Side tracked by wine that fell outside of my box, so to speak. The box I came to California to fill. The great Zinfandel box. As I mentioned I love ZInfandel, even named two producers as Snooth’s Producer of the Year in both 2011 and 2012. Such is my love for the grape and admiration for those who produce it. In planning my current trip I was able to pack the list with some of my favorite producers, though a few were too busy with crush, which seems to have ended for most folks just this past week, the week of October 20th as I write this. None the less I was able to put together a compelling list, and have been working my way through my visits, generally quite delighted by the wines I’ve been trying. And then there was my visit to the Old Hill Ranch with Will Bucklin.
Related Imagery
An ancient vine, in there somewhere.
Younger vines for the Bambino
Cabernet vines in rocky soil
First off let me say that walking through the freshly broken earth among those ancient vines was, while not a religious experience, somewhat hallowed. This is history. Vines stretching back well over a century. A crazy patchwork of varieties seemingly planted without rhyme or reason, clones gathered from who knows where. And of wines produced from this piece of dirt that have crossed my lips, all came flooding back to mind.
You see while I have always been a fan of Zinfandel, and have had some really great Zins in my life, my epiphany ZIn having been the 1981 Edmeads DuPratt consumed extensively through the late 1980s. But it wasn’t until the early 1992 that I took the time to explore Zinfandel and discover how  good the wines could be. 
I discovered, among other things, that Zinfandel had a voice. Certainly producers took stylistic liberty with Zin. There was everything from Beaujolais style Zin through dry port styled Zin back in the day, as there remains today to a certain extent. This flexibility of course should be applauded and exalted as an attribute of a uniquely constituted variety, but I learned more than that back in the day. I learned about terroir before that term was bandied about.
When made in a well judged style, neither too light nor too ripe, Zinfandel is capable of displaying striking terroir. European levels of terroir, though many are surely snickering at the thought. Think about it though. Not only do the Zins of Lodi, Amador County, and Dry Creek Valley each, communally have something unique and distinctive to say, but when you drill down within a county you’ll find that there are Vineyards that also have a voice. That carry traits from vintage to vintage, and even more importantly from producer to producer.

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  • My absolute favorite wine in all the world is Rombauer Zin! It's rich, jammy and has a depth I've not expeienced with any other wine, be it a zin or otherwise. Are there other zin's that have similar characteristics? I've tried Klinker and 7 Deadly Zins, among others, but have always been disapointed. Your advice is appreciated.

    Nov 13, 2013 at 4:37 PM

  • Snooth User: DM94523
    77883 116

    There are some fantastic Zins (or Zin-based wines) from DeLoach (Forgotten Vines), A Rafanelli, Buena Vista (Attila's Selection, Legendary Badge blend), and others. My top recommendation is probably Robert Biale in Napa.

    Nov 13, 2013 at 5:16 PM

  • Snooth User: Maddog12
    109388 1

    I echo Blueharmony about Rombauer. It is superb. If you haven't visited their tasting room you owe it to yourself to go. They start each tasting with their reds, and rinse the glass out in between each wine with their outstanding Chardonnay. No they don't use water to rinse. Another excellent zin in the same port style is Sextant 2011 Zin. It is available at Whole Foods.

    Nov 13, 2013 at 5:52 PM

  • Snooth User: gjsliney
    80804 271

    Zinfandel is by far my favorite varietal. I particularly like the field blends as the other grapes add their nuances. So many Zins and so little time. That is why I ama memebr of Zap!

    Nov 13, 2013 at 6:03 PM

  • Snooth User: rmrd0000
    365090 7

    It is possible to set up a simple print function on these articles it would make reading on mobile devices easier

    Nov 13, 2013 at 7:23 PM

  • Snooth User: Jakelast
    1405550 21

    If you like Rombauer zin give Selby Bobcat zin (Sonoma)a try. I have had several vintages and it seems to be on a par and perhaps even better than the Rombauer and of course any of the zins from Ridge. The Ridge wines can be bigger and stronger but still have a lot of the richness you find in the Rombauer

    Nov 13, 2013 at 8:28 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 4,227

    Glad to see you took some time to visit with farmer Will. He's an asset to California viticultural history. Great guy, great wines, great story!

    Nov 13, 2013 at 8:33 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I love seeing such a vibrant discussion regarding Zinfandel. Such a great variety and one that often does not get the respect it deserves. Thanks OT, I've been a fan of the wines for a long time and actually got them brought into the NY market for the first time quite a few years ago. It was a long awaited visit and one that will sick with me!

    Nov 14, 2013 at 3:02 AM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 4,227

    GDP, I had the pleasure of a tour in 2012. Will is a unique guy and his farming practices are to be admired. One of the more educational wine days of my life.

    Nov 14, 2013 at 10:21 AM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,426

    That vineyard map is awesome. Maps fascinate me. I did a quick internet search and found some other examples(Bien Nacido and Chamisal in the Central Coast). Those, however, had the different varieties planted by blocks. This one is so cool having the the individual plants depicted showing the dispersion throughout the vineyard.

    Nov 14, 2013 at 2:25 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    It's an amazing map! So much fun for the casual wine geek, walking the vineyard with Will, who can identify many of the varieties in the vineyard is even better!

    Nov 15, 2013 at 4:39 PM

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