America’s Oldest Documented Zinfandel Vineyard “Vineyard 1869”

by Scott Harvey on April 5, 2012

Recently in the Smithsonian Magazine in the “Off The Road” section there was a mention about America’s Oldest Documented Zinfandel Vineyard located in Amador County, “Vineyard 1869”.
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This is a vineyard I purchased in 1984.  I was the fourth owner of the vineyard since it came into existence during California’s Gold Rush Era.  The land the vineyard is on was originally settled by the Upton family as a gold mining claim.  The Upton family along with the neighboring Ruff family planted a zinfandel vineyard that spanned across both their mining claims.  Many vineyards were planted during this time to supply the thirsty miners of the thriving gold camps.  A few still exist to this day.  Some may be older and some younger, but Vineyard 1869 is the only one that has documentation proving its age.  That is why we call it “America’s Oldest Documented Zinfandel Vineyard.”

Back in the mid 1800’s the new State of California set about establishing section corners on every square mile starting at Mt Diablo in the San Francisco Bay Area.  By the time they got across the state to Amador County it was 1869.  One of the documents recorded setting the section corners mentions this vineyard as a reference point.  So we know the vineyard existed in 1869, but do not know how old it already was when the document was recorded.  Now that section corners were established the State set about converting all the mining claims to deeded property.  The original deed to this property was to Mahala Upton and was signed by Ulysses S. Grant as President.  The property was 600 acres and the vineyard continued providing income for the Upton Family for many generations. The Upton descendents are still farming in Amador county today.  In the 1930’s the Steiner family bought the property and continued farming the vineyard.  Around 1970 Walt Steiner split off the old vineyard and the original Upton farm-house and sold it to his care taker John Downing.  In 1979 I started buying the grapes from John and struck up a friendship.  When he was ready to retire, he sold me the vineyard making us the fourth owners.  I originally named the vineyard Grandpere and sold the grapes to wineries such as Santino,  Amador Foothill Winery and Harbor Winery.  The name Grandpere eventually ended up being owned by Renwood winery and now represents a different vineyard.  I went on to rename the vineyard ” Vineyard 1869″ which tells the story of the document that establishes the age of the vineyard.


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