By Virginie Boone

Sonoma County has an abundance of historic vineyards across its expanse, a testament to the resilience, fortitude and legacy of its multigenerational farming families and their longstanding dedication to agriculture here.

The nonprofit Historic Vineyard Society (HVS) was started in 2011 as a way to honor and preserve this astounding history of grapegrowing across California. It will hold a tasting of historic vineyards on Saturday, May 4th, in San Francisco as a way to showcase how delicious and distinctive the wines can be, hoping to encourage growers to keep growing the vines and winemakers to keep making the wines from such sites.

HVS has compiled a directory of California’s historic vineyards setting as its criteria for the inclusion of three specific things:

  • Must be a currently producing wine vineyard
  • The original planting date must be at least 50 years ago
  • At least 1/3 of the existing vines still producing can be traced back to the original planting date

Sonoma County has 67 such vineyards registered in the HVS directory, from Bacigalupi in the Russian River Valley (planted in the 1950s) to Alexander Valley’s Seghesio Home Ranch, planted in the 1890s.

Sonoma County’s very oldest vineyards – Bedrock, Jackass Hill, Jackass Vineyard, Martinelli Road (Banfield), Monte Rosso, Old Hill Ranch and Whitton Ranch (Geyserville) – date back to the 1880s.

Here are some of the Sonoma County-based producers sourcing from many of these old-vine sites.

Arnot Roberts: Works with Bedrock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

BACA: Based in Dry Creek Valley, BACA sources Zin from the Maffei Vineyard in Russian River

Bedrock: Makes wines from its own historic estate, first founded in 1854 and replanted in 1888; as well as Nervo Ranch in Geyserville, with vines planted in 1896; Beeson Ranch in Dry Creek Valley, originally planted in the early 1900s; Sodini Ranch in Russian River Valley, planted in 1905; Alta Vista Vineyard on Moon Mountain, planted to Gewurztraminer in the 1940s; Compagni Portis Vineyard in Sonoma Valley, planted in 1954; and Puccini Vineyard also in Sonoma Valley, planted in 1906

Bucklin/Old Hill Ranch: Planted to some of the first non-Mission grapes in Sonoma County in the 1850s, Old Hill became a vineyard-designate for other wineries beginning in the 1970s and is run today by the four Bucklin siblings, who make wines from Old Hill Ranch under the Bucklin Winery name

Carlisle: Mike Officer serves on the board of the Historic Vineyard Society and is a longtime proponent of keeping old vines in the ground; he sources from Mancini Ranch and Papera Ranch in the Russian River Valley for Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley’s Rossi Ranch for Zin and Grenache, and makes a white wine from Compagni Portis also in Sonoma Valley; his own Russian River Valley Carlisle Estate Vineyard was planted to a field blend in 1927 by Alcide Pelletti

Carol Shelton: Makes wines from Bastoni Vineyards in Fountain Grove District, planted in 1906; Mancini Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, planted in 1922; and Oat Valley Vineyard in Alexander Valley, planted in 1890

Desire Lines: Griffin’s Lair in Petaluma Gap was one of the first sites to be planted in the region in 1874; its present-day Syrah was planted in 2000

Hanzell: The original 6 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were planted on the Mayacamas Range overlooking Sonoma in 1953, now considered the oldest Pinot Noir vineyard and oldest continuously producing Chardonnay vineyard in North America

Hartford Family: Hartford’s head-trained Hartford Vineyard Zin in Russian River was planted in the 1910s

Joseph Swan: Trenton Estate Vineyard, the producer’s estate vineyard, has some of the oldest Pinot Noir in the Russian River, with plantings dating back to 1969

Limerick Lane: Makes Zinfandel and Rhone-style wines from its historic estate, where the vines date back to 1910; they also sell grapes to other producers such as Bedrock, Carlisle and Robert Biale

Little Trouble: Makes a Grist Vineyard Zin from vines planted atop Bradford Mountain originally a century ago and replanted beginning in 1973; also makes a Grist Vineyard Syrah

Martinelli: The longtime farming family has Jackass Vineyard, planted in 1883, and Jackass Hill, planted in 1890, along with many sites that date back originally to the 1800s

Nalle: The Nalle Estate Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley was planted to Zinfandel in 1927

Once & Future: Joel Peterson’s post-Ravenswood endeavor sources from Old Hill Ranch, a longtime supplier of old-vine grapes to Ravenswood; Bedrock Vineyard; and Teldeschi Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, which dates back to the early 1900s

Quivira: Quivira’s Wine Creek Ranch in Dry Creek Valley has Petite Sirah planted in the 1970s

Reichwage: Farms two estate vineyards, Twin Hills on the Sonoma Coast, planted to Pinot Noir and Gamay (as well as the Twin Hills Apple Orchard), and Mancini Ranch, a dry-farmed field blend of Zin, Carignane and white varieties like French Colombard planted between 1922 and 1924, with a small amount of new varieties added in 2018

Ridge: Ridge’s Lytton Springs Estate on Lytton Springs Road in Dry Creek Valley dates back to the 1900s, planted to Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Mourvedre and Grenache; its Buchignani Ranch Alexander Valley Carignane was first planted in 1927; Mancini Ranch Carignane-Zinfandel-Alicante Bouschet comes from the Russian River Valley site planted between 1922 and 1924

Seghesio: Seghesio continues to farm its Alexander Valley Home Ranch Vineyard, first planted to Zinfandel in 1895, and maintains the oldest blocks of Sangiovese in North America at Chianti Station Vineyard, planted in 1910; it also has Montafi Ranch Vineyard in Russian River Valley, planted to Zinfandel in 1926; sources from Pagani Ranch Vineyard in Sonoma Valley, planted in 1895; and Saini Farms in Dry Creek, planted in 1926

Under the Wire: This sparkling wine partnership between Morgan Twain-Peterson and Chris Cottrell sources from Bedrock Vineyard to make an old-vine sparkling Zinfandel

Williams Selyem: Among its estate vineyards is Saitone, an old-vine site in the Russian River Valley first planted in 1895 to Zinfandel, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet and Chasselas Dore (with other varieties interplanted); it also works with old-vine Zin from Papera Vineyard in the Russian River, planted in 1934; and has gotten Rochioli Riverblock Pinot since 1980

Interested in tasting some of these wines from Sonoma County’s oldest vines? Many will be given the spotlight at HVS in the City on Saturday, May 4, at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., the tasting will feature wines from an impressive representation of Sonoma County vineyards and wineries, a rare opportunity to taste old-vine wines from more than 40 wineries pouring 100 wines under one roof.

Cover image by Quivira Vineyards