California’s history is steeped in wine just as surely as it is in the gold rush that shaped the California we know today. Gold transformed Sacramento from a sleepy little outpost into a boom-town. It had the same effect on the foothill towns of Auburn, Placerville, Jackson, and the many smaller towns sprinkled in between—including a little burg at the foot of the Shenandoah Valley known as Plymouth. The gold eventually petered out. The wine stayed strong.
Imagine what life was like in the Sierra Foothills in the 1860s. The Goldrush really began in 1849 and while there were still fortunes to be pulled out of the soils and streams of what would eventually become Amador County, there was also money to be made providing the things gold miners needed. clothing, tools, food, and…yes, wine.
It was about then that a family named Upton decided to quit mining and start farming instead. They planted what was originally 16 acres of Zinfandel vines in the Shenandoah Valley. We don’t know the exact year they planted, but we do know from a surveyor’s hand-written notes that the property was planted in vines and was producing grapes in July of 1869. Hence the name of Scott Harvey’s flagship Zinfandel “Vineyard 1869.”
Those vines, now at least 152 years old, are still producing grapes and Scott Harvey has access to most of the harvest. The full story of ownership of those vines gets a little complicated, and there has already been a lot written about that. If you must, google “Vineyard 1869” and you’ll get the details. I’d like to focus on the wine Scott Harvey produces from those gnarled old vines.
Let’s start with the 2018 vintage—still available in our library collection. This Zinfandel has the balance, the character, and the Old World style you’ve come to expect from Scott Harvey Wines, but it has something so much…more.
The vines in vineyard 1869 have been growing so long, the roots reach down 20-25 feet, passing through many different strata of soil, and pulling different mineral qualities out of each one. The result is a wine of amazing complexity and a rich, smooth supple texture. The first sip invites another, and another…
The new vintage, 2019, has all the promises of the previous year. The subtle tannin backbone is tempered by the rich fruit and mineral complexity the Vineyard 1869 rootstock reliably delivers. This is a wine that’s eminently drinkable now, and will only improve with time.
And if you’re looking for older bottles of Old Vine Zin, We do have some in the library dating back several years. Some even in large format bottles. If you want to make a statement at your holiday table, a magnum (or two) of the oldest Old Vine Zinfandel in the state will certainly do that!
So with the holidays approaching, Vineyard 1869 is an elegant “message in a bottle” for your guests or as a gift to your host that you want to share the best. It’s also a great history lesson. Everyone knows about California’s Gold Rush. Not many know that the California Grape Rush was right on its heels.