Throughout the wine world, the prevailing belief is older vines produce better wines. While there’s been no hard evidence proving that conclusion, most expert oenophiles agree that as vines age and grape clusters become sparse to produce less fruit, the skin-to-pulp ratio increases, resulting in berries with more concentrated flavor.
That being the case, if alive today, immigrant Valeriano Jacuzzi would be quite pleased with the grapevines he planted at his Oakley ranch near the San Joaquin river in Contra Costa County over 100 years ago. Fortunately, his grandson, Fred Cline, acquired his love of farming and winemaking and set forth in restoring dry-farmed, head-pruned vines with roots running deep in the sandy soils. These rare vines have now become the backbone for Cline Family Cellars newly released Ancient Vines wines and after tasting, the name on the four bottles did everything to satisfy my position on the accepted theory of age-old vines.
The 2018 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre Rosé ($18) is made as a Blanc de Noir or “ white of a red grape,” in the style of white wine from grapes grown in close proximity to those original vineyards but reflect newer plantings harvested early to deliver a crisp, pale pink colored, fruit-forward rosé with flavors of raspberry, watermelon and passion fruit.
Having almost disappeared from the American wine landscape in the 1970s, the Mourvèdre grape is experiencing a resurgence in popularity and Cline is benefitting from its planting of these grape-producing vines back in the 1930s. As such, they have produced the medium tawny ruby 2017 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre ($22), a full-bodied, medium tawny ruby-colored wine offering flavors of plum, cheery and chocolate. This wine was pressed off the skins at dryness before being racked on to dark roasted American oak where it was gently ages for 12 months.
Next up in the collection is the 2017 Ancient Vines Zinfandel ($20), consisting of 97% Zinfandel and 3% Carignane aged 10 months in 38% American oak. The grapes underwent near total destemming and a very gentle crushing to ensure a large proportion of whole berries that contribute to the explosive fruit character of the deep ruby wine with soft tannins and flavors of strawberry, chocolate, coffee and spice.
The 2018 Ancient Vines Carignane ($23) rounds out the new collection. Carignane has been one of the most widely planted red grapes in France and is also grown abundantly in Spain, Italy, Algeria and Israel. Traditionally, it’s been used as a blending grape because of its tasty yields, acidity, and big tannins but Cline Family Cellars is one of the few wineries to vinify this as a stand-alone varietal. This particular vintage opens with aromas of coffee, spice and plum while flavors of berry, plum, and tobacco lead to a lengthy and well-structured finish.
While these own-rooted, head-pruned vines have resisted threats from drought, Prohibition, Phylloxera, and even urban developers looking to pave their paradise, the Clines have stood firm to protect the ancient vineyards of Contra Costa.
By Robert Kaufman