Vintage California | Heritage Old Vine Vineyards of California

Heritage Old Vine Vineyards of California

With its artfully designed tasting rooms and world-class restaurants, today’s California wine country is destination tourism at its best. Surrounded by the modern glitz of places like Napa Valley, it’s easy to forget that California has been commercially producing grapes since the early 1830s when Jean Louis Vignes founded California’s first commercial vineyard in Southern California. And yet, when it comes to ancient vines and heritage vineyards, for most wine drinkers, it’s Europe that comes to mind, not California.

The 1800s was a time of growth and expansion in California. European settlers spread from the state’s Gold Rush boomtowns in search of their fortunes, and as they migrated, they brought with them cuttings from the Old World vines of their homelands. With a few exceptions, as we’ll see below, many of California’s old vine vineyards trace back to these early settlers.

And while the heritage vines of the 1800s aren’t as productive as their younger counterparts, by younger, we’re talking vines that are 15-25 years old, rather than 120 years old, they still yield enough fruit to be commercially relevant, and satisfy the tastes of wine drinkers curious about California’s rich wine history.

Today, a small but passionate group of winemakers remain enchanted by the state’s history of viticulture, and continue to cultivate wines from California’s heritage vines. What better way to express a ‘sense of place’, and terroir, than with grapes from these special vineyards.

“...nowhere in California has the same breadth of old-vine vineyards as Lodi, particularly in its central sub-region of Mokelumne River AVA.”

Rob MacCulloch MW
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Lodi

If you drink California Zinfandel, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the town Lodi. Zinfandel vines were planted in Lodi as far back as the 1860s when the Gold Rush evaporated and settlers dispersed throughout Northern California. Today, this small town just south of Sacramento is a mecca of old vines.

In an article exploring Lodi’s old vine Zinfandel, Rob MacCulloch MW declared, “...nowhere in California has the same breadth of old-vine vineyards as Lodi, particularly in its central sub-region of Mokelumne River AVA.”

Prominent winemakers like Tegan Passalacqua, of Turley Wine Cellars and Sandland Vineyards, Arnot-Roberts, and Bedrock Wine Company all make wines from old vine Lodi Zinfandel grapes.

Kirschenmann Vineyard

The Kirschenmann Vineyard, which is owned and farmed by Passalacqua, was planted in 1915. The own-rooted vines from Kirschenmann Vineyard are popular with a few notable wineries including Arnot Roberts, Bedrock Wine Company, and of course, the aforementioned Turley Wine Cellars and Sandlands.

While the Kirschenmann Vineyard is primarily planted to ungrafted Zinfandel, small amounts of Carignane, Cinsault and Mondeuse Noir are also planted throughout.

Bechthold Vineyard

With vines dating back to the 1880s, the Bechthold Vineyard is home to Lodi’s oldest existing vines. This 25 acre plot was originally planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker, and contains old vine Mourvedre (Mataro), Cinsault, and Carignane. Respected winemakers from Birchino, Turley, and Two Shepherds, who makes both a Blanc de Cinsault, and Red Cinsault, all make their Cinsault from the historic Bechthold Vineyard.


The Bedrock Vineyard is one of Sonoma County’s most historic vineyards. Spread across 152 acres, Bedrock Vineyard is a cornucopia of old vine varieties including: Zinfandel, Mourvedre, Carignane, and scattered planting of Petite Sirah, Barbera and Alicante Bouschet.

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Sonoma County

The roots run deep when it comes to winemaking in Sonoma County. In 1812, Russian colonists planted Sonoma County’s first vines at Fort Ross, and by 1920, there were 256 wineries, and more than 22,000 acres in production.

Wine producers like Ridge Vineyards, Bedrock Wine Company, Carlisle, and Arnot-Roberts all source old vine grapes from Sonoma County.

Bedrock Vineyard

Bedrock Wine Company’s namesake vineyard, the Bedrock Vineyard, is owned and operated by friends Morgan Twain-Peterson MW and Chris Cottrell. The Bedrock Vineyard is one of Sonoma County’s most historic vineyards. Spread across 152 acres, Bedrock Vineyard is a cornucopia of old vine varieties including: Zinfandel, Mourvedre, Carignane, and scattered planting of Petite Sirah, Barbera and Alicante Bouschet.

Morgan and Chris’s ode to the Bedrock Vineyard is theirBedrock Heritage Wine, a Zinfandel dominant field blend that represents the winery's rich California history.

Ridge Wine

Ridge Wine is one of Northern California’s most prestigious wineries. And while Ridge is mostly famous for its Cabernet vineyards, there’s another vineyard on the property that garners just as much attention and respect: the Lytton Springs Vineyard.

The Lytton Springs vineyard is home to a field blend of several varieties of 100 plus-year-old vines including: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Mourvèdre, and Grenache. Grapes from this vineyard are used to create bottles of Ridge’s Lytton Springs, which consists of 73% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 9% Carignane, 2% Mataro.

Originally planted by Emmanuel Goldstein in 1886, the vineyard now has 250 acres under vine. And, incredibly, three generations of the Martini family, who purchased the property in 1940, continued to farm the vineyard until it was sold to E. & J. Gallo Winery in 2002.

Monte Rosso wine comes from a very special vineyard indeed!

Pagani Ranch Vineyard

Pagani Ranch Vineyard is located near the town of Kenwood, just north of downtown Sonoma. According to Ridge, who purchases grapes from the Pagani family for its Pagani Ranch Zinfandel, the property is unique even among old-vine history because, “It is one of very few vineyards comprised primarily of 100-year-old vines. The ranch’s 30 acres of turn-of-the-century vines consists principally of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah complemented by minor amounts of Mataro (Mourvedre) and Alicante Bouschet.”

Carlisle Winery

Carlisle Winery’s Mike Officer is perhaps the greatest advocate for California’s sacred old vine vineyards. So much so that he helped found the Historic Vineyard Society in 2011 with fellow old vine advocates Tegan Passalacqua, Morgan Twain-Peterson, and David Gates, of Ridge.

Carlisle Winery, sources a number of grapes from old vine vineyards including his Sonoma Valley Pagani Ranch Alicante Bouschet, Sonoma Valley Pagani Ranch Zinfandel, Russian River Valley Saitone Vineyard Zinfandel, and his Sonoma Valley Compagni Portis White Wine. The Compagni-Portis Vineyard, planted in 1954, is unique among California's old vine vineyards as it’s planted to Gewurztraminer, Trousseau Gris, Riesling, Sylvaner, and Green Hungarian - all white grape varieties.

Arnot-Roberts also makes an allocation-only old vine field blend from this vineyard.

The Sémillon block is more accurately described as a Sémillon-based field blend with both white and red grapes including Palomino, Carignan, Lenoir and Sylvaner. [The block] still has vines that date back to the original planting in 1886, which makes them among the oldest surviving Sémillon vines anywhere in the world.

According to Vineyard Manager Brenae Royal
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Monte Rosso Vineyard

There’s a lot to get excited about by the Monte Rosso vineyard in the Moon Mountain AVA. Situated on the southwest side of the Mayacamas Range, near the town of Agua Caliente, and downtown Sonoma, the Monte Rosso Vineyard is one of California’s oldest vineyards. The Monte Rosso Vineyard is special, even where old vine vineyards are concerned; this vineyard isn’t just a heritage vineyard, it’s a legacy vineyard.

The second oldest Semillon in the world, at 136-years-old as of 2022, is located in Monte Rosso.

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