Monday, February 4, 2008

Vineyard Tour #1: Bucklin Old Hill vineyard

I thought I'd get back to writing about my interesting classes. It always helps the ol' memory to write out these field trips as they happen. I'm enrolled in a Viticulture class at Santa Rosa Jr. College in which we visit high level vineyards in Sonoma and Napa counties and learn from the vineyard manager about the methods they utilize to grow premium quality fruit.

Bucklin Vineyards

California Buckeye Tree
On Jan. 23rd, our Viticulture class traveled to Bucklin Vineyards in Glenn Ellen. The Old Hill vineyard is the second oldest vineyard in Sonoma County, the oldest being one planted by General Vallejo himself. we learned that, in the 1800's the grape grown in California was the Mission grape, brought over by Spanish priests. the grape made terrible wine though, ans as one high ranking ambassador said about Gen. Vallejo's estate wine, "It was due only to politeness that I swallowed it."

Zinfandel, or Black St. Peters, as it was called, was grown in hothouses on the East coast as a table grape. One Mr. William McPherson Hill, after making a fortune in the Gold Rush, bought up land in Glenn Ellen and first planted table grapes. Later he planted zinfandel and made his first wine in 1862 to rave reviews (especially when compared to what was commonly available at the time!).

Besides Zin, Mr. Hill also planted at least 12 other varietals in the same block. Grenache, Morverdre, Syrah, Petite Syrah, Carignon, Alicante Bouchet and the other varietals are interspersed, as you can see on this map, and when the grapes are harvested at the same time and fermented (co-ferment) all together, it results in a wine that is called "field blend."
Field blends are interesting in taste and have a certain mystique, especially in this heyday of single varietal wines.

Will Bucklin
The current winegrower, Will Bucklin inherited the vineyard from his stepfather who adamantly cared for and protected these old vines, even when advised by the county ag commissioner to rip the whole block out and replant. Will has taken the personal mission to identify all the varietals in the block he is able to map their location using GPS.

120 year old Grenache

hese old vines are so interesting to look at. Sporting moss and lichen in their craggy twists and turns, it's amazing to examine the intricacies of the plant. When an old vine begins to fail, Bucklin will dose it with fertilizer to renew the rootstock until it bursts a bud, then graft on to one year old wood. He feels that it is so important to preserve the rootstock because those roots go down 15 to 25 feet and allow the vineyard to be dry-farmed.

Vineyard Kitty perfectly at home in the vines.

Bucklin Vineyards have been farmed organically since 1982 and was certified in 2002. About half of his grapes are sold to Ravenswood and are made into their Old Hill Zinfandel ($60). He makes his own wine too. His label is Bucklin and he produces a Syrah, Zinfandels, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Gewurztraminer that he will discontinue next year.

Bucklin follows what he calls "long pruning" for his head trained vines. He leaves 8 buds on a cane, then gradually prunes back to two. He feels that this lengthens harvest time and adds frost protection. With all these different varietals ripening in the same field, he picks twice each year at 25-28 Brix, since it's difficult to test each different varietal.

A perfect example of a head trimmed vine.

Acreage About 14 acres
Year planted Around 1880, oldest vineyard in Ravenswood portfolio
Soil type Clay loam
Climate "Banana Belt of Sonoma Valley"
Elevation Sea level
Exposure Slightly eastern
Spacing 6'X10'
Yield Less than 1.5 tons per acre
Varietals Old mixed vineyard, has Zinfandel, Mataro, Carignane, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah and various others
Rootstock Mixed/St. George

Previous vineyard posts:
vine budding and grafting
trimming vines

Previous wine posts:
now to the wines
month of mornings

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