The History Behind the Old Vine Reserve Zinfandel

by Scott Harvey on August 6, 2012

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.

Scott in the Norton/DeMille Old Vine Zinfandel Vineyard

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.

Norton/DeMille Old Vine Zinfandel Vines

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.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Sherriff August 7, 2012 at 8:42 am

Great story — please share more of your reminisces about your Grandpa, Scott! Having been a Marine with the famed Carlson’s Raiders I am sure he had many other tales to tell – some of which might even be able to be written without being censored. 🙂 And even if they don’t necessarily relate to wine I bet many of your customers would love to hear and learn more about him. I can assure you that at least this Marine in Kansas would!

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Scott Harvey August 8, 2012 at 10:08 am

Hi Bill,
All I can say is he was a great guy. Taught me many things in cluding how to handel a gun and shoot. He grew up high in the Sierra Nevada mountains in an area called Omo Ranch. He spent his youth hunting and bringing game home for the family. He became a great marksman and therefor ended up as a sharp shooter in the Carlson’s Raiders from the beginning of the war until he got shot. By that time he had successfully made four beach heads in the South Pacific.

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Marybeth Anderson August 7, 2012 at 10:59 am

As always Scott, your stories are the best! We would’ve loved to have been in Amador years ago to have met him and to see that area then. I bet there are still many things that haven’t changed though, including the grapes. We loved it when we went there with you for Harvest a couple of years ago and the stories you had then. Best of Harvest this year; we’ll see you mid-October!

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Jana Harvey August 8, 2012 at 7:56 am

Thanks Marybeth. We’re so glad you’re going to be out here this year. We missed you last year.

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