Salt Lake magazine editor Mary Brown Malouf just returned Napa with other Salt Lake food and restaurant professionals attending local wine broker Francis Fecteau’s semi-annual Wine Farm Camp. Here is her latest letter from the vineyards.
We did a long haul from Mendocino down to Sonoma on the last day of wine camp—destination: Bucklin Old Hill Ranch. This might be the oldest vineyard (1854) in Sonoma County and it’s legendary for its fruit, was instrumental in California’s zinfandel renaissance and is owned by one of the county’s most opinionated, stubborn and talented winemakers, Will Bucklin.
Accompanied by a couple of dogs, we happily trudged up and down the hot hills, looking at the vines and listening to Will’s TED talk on dry-farming, California chardonnay, field blends, old vines, ancient vines, rootstock, organic farming, how deep his vines’ roots are (60 feet?),why he no longer kills gophers in his vineyards and how viticulture like his can help save the planet, or at least wine country.
Old Hill (named after a man named Hill) is owned and run by Bucklin, one of four children of Anne Teller, who with her husband Otto pioneered organic farming in northern Califonia. You could say he has dirt in his blood.
In contrast to the manicured catalogued vineyards at Caymus, which we’d visited a few days earlier, and where many vines are pulled and replaced after 15 years or so, Old Hill Ranch is an apparent chaos, with old and middle-aged vines of various varieties planted next to each other. Bucklin has mapped the mayhem, though, and one of his main teaching and talking tools is a diagram that pinpoints the location of every single vine in the vineyard. It’s an obsessive piece of work (it would make a great piece of needlepoint or a jigsaw puzzle) but it’s also an illustration of the holistic way wine grower Will Bucklin approaches wine making.
Back at the house, during a conversation about Northern California, Ken Kesey, organic farming, family and wine, wine, wine, we taste our way through a vertical series of Old Hill Ranch and though each bottle was different, you could taste the same vineyard in every bottle.
Funny to catch up with the online news after a few days gone and see Will featured in the Wall Street Journal in an article that casts Will’s sales trip to New York City as a kind of country mouse/city mouse encounter. Which is kind of apt. And we all remember who the wise one is in that fable.