The 2009 Amador County Old Vine Reserve Zinfandel is 66% from my step-grandfather’s (George DeMille) 84 year old vineyard, blended with grapes from the 141 year old Vineyard 1869. In the old days, my step-grandfather sold these grapes to home winemakers. During prohibition, Amador County actually increased in grape acreage. If he sold these grapes to the Portuguese in West Sacramento, he got $25 per ton. If he sold them to the Basque on the other side of the Sierra’s in Minden/Gardnerville, he got $35 per ton. So over the mountain we would go. What he didn’t sell, he left setting in his front yard in the 50-pound lug boxes we used to pick grapes into. There they would sit, molding, until he decided nobody was going to come and buy them.
At that point he would put them in an old 4ft x 6ft dairy tank and beat them with a baseball bat. This was his method for making the family wine for all of the family gatherings. My step-grandfather was a crusty old guy, having been of the famous Carlson’s Marine Raiders, who hit four beach heads in the South Pacific in WWII. So family gatherings were venison and his rough homemade wine. When I came back from winemaking school in Germany in 1976, the venison still tasted great, but the wine no longer was palatable. So I asked Grandpa how many tons he got out of the old vineyard. He said it was an old vineyard and didn’t produce a lot, about 1 to 1.5 tons per acre or about four to six tons. “Good,” I said, “I’m buying it all”. Winery price at that time was $180 per ton. A lot better than the $35 he was getting from the Basque. I asked him how much he needed for the family and he said a barrel. I told him I would make that wine also, wouldn’t pay him for the grapes needed to make it, but would make it and deliver it to him bottled and everything. Now I knew I was going to get great wine with that venison.
About two weeks later, he showed up at the back gate of the winery with the old dairy tank and baseball bat in the back of his pickup. He said, “Scott, if you are going to make my wine, you can have all of my equipment.” I’ve been making wine from those grapes ever since.