When purchasing a property in Sonoma or Napa Valley that incorporates a Vineyard, you will be looking at what types of grapes are growing in each vineyard (some properties have 3 or 4) and what types are flourishing in adjacent lands. You will also be looking at the Age of the Vines and the production numbers for the past several years. So that you can have a better understanding of the varieties and the vines growing on the land, here are a few terms you might hear me mention.
Variety – For our discussion variety means a sub-species of vitus vinifera. All wine grapes grown in California are European in origin and from the family vitus vinifera. In addition to the most popular varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel there are many, many other varieties to choose from – several hundred as a matter of fact.
Clone – A clone is a genetically identical vine propagated by cuttings from one mother plant that was chosen because of some particularly desirable trait. In some varieties, there is not much difference between clones and in other varieties, like Pinot Noir, there are large differences.
Selection – A selection is vine material taken from a specific site. If you go into your neighbors vineyard during pruning and collect bud wood from plants that you particularly like you have a “selection”.
Rootstock – Although Vitus Vinifera is generally considered the best grapes for making wine, it is highly susceptible to several diseases native to North America. So, to get Vitus Vinifera varieties to grow in North America, you have to graft them onto rootstocks that are created from crosses of North American native species that are resistant to those diseases. There are a variety of rootstocks suited to different situations and it is far, far beyond the scope of this to go into them. Suffice it to say that you will need an expert advising you on the rootstocks that will work best at your site with your varieties.
Old Vines – In France there is a ruling by Appellation that determines how old a vine must be before it can be labeled anything other than Table Wine. In the US, we have no such distinction. The theory, passed down for Centuries, is that the older the vines, the deeper and stronger the root system. The stronger the roots, means that the vines could be pulling from different nutrients in the soil, and the terrior does impact the flavor of the wine. Perhaps more importantlythough, as a vine ages it typically produces less fruit; its effort and energy goes into fewer grape clusters. The plus side? The clusters tend to be very concentrated and offer a level of depth and complexity that, according to some, only older vines can produce.
When you hear this term used in Sonoma, it normally refers to the thick, gnarled, somewhat stunted (normally zinfandel) grapevines, planted in the 1880s or 1890s or early 1900s by Italian immigrants. These particular vines are so old that they must be carefully tended, and they manage to bring forth only a handful of grapes in each vintage. However, it is the deep, rich and flavorful wines that these particular vines produce that is some of the most sought after.
Are all “Old Vines” a hundred years old or more? Certainly not! Again, it’s a term that is not regulated. A vine that is 10 to 20 years old could be labeled as “old.” What’s more, not all winemakers, are convinced that old vines produce better grapes. Many firmly believe that vines producing their first crop of fruit at about three or four years old are responsible for the best wines in the world!
If you want to know more about Vineyards in Napa, or buying a home in Sonoma – Call me!