Of Geyserville, "Old Patch" and 117-Year-Old-Vine Zinfandel
It's one of the most storied old-vine parcels on the coast. Just a couple hundred yards from the famed Geyserville Vineyard that the Trentadue family farms for Paul Draper at Ridge, rows of ancient head-trained Zinfandel continue to flourish on what was once a stone-strewn riverbed. Some call Leo Trentadue's 117-year-old vineyard Whitten Ranch. Leo just calls it "Old Patch."
Since 2008, winemaker Miro Tcholakov has been on a hot streak. The "Old Patch" Zinfandel bushes, first planted in 1896, stand chest-high. Absent the wire trellising that helps growers manage leaf canopies, these 117-year-old plants march to their own drumbeat -- growing up and out, as they sprawl along the pebbled surface. In torrid summers, the bush plants suffer, unable to protect bunches from sunburn and blistering. But, beginning in 2008, four consecutive cool growing seasons have provided a perfect Zinfandel recipe, culminating in 2011 -- the coldest of all -- leading to one of the most luscious, high-toned, wild berry Zins the brilliant Tcholakov has ever crafted off of "Old Patch."
"Many people don't fully understand Zinfandel," Miro told us as we swirled this lavish, explosively aromatic, ancient-vine 2011 La Storia Reserve in oversized Riedel (a must for this wine!). "Some think that Zin thrives on heat. Actually, the opposite is true." The lavish red-fruit aromatics of the 2011 Reserve were absent any note of heavy-handedness or syrupy overtones, leading to a rich, vibrant, terrifically juicy attack -- powerful, yet perfectly balanced and light on its feet.
Miro just smiled, then continued. "Zinfandel plants dehydrate quickly. Leaf canopies help, but still, in the really hot summers, the plants never recover. But in these really cool years, the old bush plants thrive. We only picked 20 bunches per plant in 2011, a couple weeks before the rain began. The clusters were perfect and clean, full of juice, with no sign at all of shrivel or desiccation. It's Zinfandel at its best, but unfortunately Nature rarely cooperates as it did in 2011."
One of the secrets of "Old Patch" lies in the substrata. These deep, gravelly soils are poor, but drain extraordinarily well. Each summer, the old vines are stressed to the max, helping explain the extraordinary health of those that celebrated their 100-year birthday seventeen years ago. Some in Sonoma Valley were obliged to wait through the October rains of 2011, as their Zin hadn't yet reached full maturity. As for Leo Trentadue and Miro Tcholakov, the rain didn't matter. Every "Old Patch" cluster was hand-picked at perfect ripeness on September 30 and October 1, all ticketed for Miro's fermenter.
Tcholakov has a masterful touch with the "Old Patch" Zinfandel, one that shines a bright spotlight on all the ancient-fruit opulence, letting the vineyard do the talking in the glass. We've been following Miro's work since the late 1990s and have fallen in love with his deftness and the subtlety of his cellar protocol. But never before have we been as smitten as we were with this 2011 La Storia.
Deep purple in color, with explosive aromas of sweet spice, infused with black cherry, blueberry and fresh plum. The attack is rich and wonderfully juicy, packed with crushed red fruits, high-toned and vibrant -- absent any of the ponderous, dried-out flavors that mar so many Zinfandels these days -- all bracketed by supple, fine wood tannins.