WineGuyMike: Old Vine Zinfandel


The season of the year and temperature have a great deal of influence on our palates.  Just as we eat lighter fare in summer months we gravitate to comfort food dishes in fall and winter months, consumer wine choices are very similar.  Seasonal weather and temperature dictate wine choices; white wine or lighter bodied red wines when it’s warm while medium to full bodied red wines are the “go to” choice in cooler months.

This week on Wine Time with WineGuyMike;  I’m sharing one of those comfort wines in this transitional season of fall.  Zinfandel is full bodied, fruit forward, and a spicy red wine that is one of California’s favorites, it is also one of their most plentiful varietals.  Berries, cherries, tobacco, oak, and vanilla, this wine has much to offer.  Zinfandel is a diverse grape that is also used to produce the infamous White Zinfandel and is also used as a blending grape in other red wine blends.

In this article I’m focusing on two viticulture areas renowned for old growth or in this case Old Vine Zinfandel.  Old growth or old vines are any grapevines that exceed 50 years of age.  Old vines produce fewer grapes with smaller berries, concentrated fruit and sugar resulting in wine with solid balance and structure.  The Lodi and Dry Creek areas feature vines that are 120 -140 years old, in fact the Dry Creek AVA of Sonoma County, California has one of the largest Old Vine Zinfandel concentrations in the world.

Lodi, California is one of the largest Zinfandel producing viticulture areas in California accounting for 40%.  This delicious grape varietal has been grown in the Lodi AVA since the late 1800’s and there are still thousands of “old vine” acreage producing wines of distinction.


There are multi-generational families dating back 100 years and new innovative growers that farm grapes in this region.  Experience and new technologies have combined and the result is world class wines that express a true sense of place.  The Lodi AVA has grown from 8 wineries in the late 1990’s to over 60 today and rests at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta on one side with the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range to the east.  Warm days and cool nights are typical of this grape growing area which receives 17’’ of annual rainfall during the rainy season.  The growing season remains dry allowing for healthy cultivation free from vine diseases and pests.

Geological events and alluvial soil matter are what formed this Zinfandel friendly growing ground thousands of years ago.  The Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers originating in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range supply granitic minerals combined with layers of volcanic rock and ash, thus producing unique and complex flavor in Lodi Zinfandel wines.

Lodi’s viticulture area has expanded to the rolling foothills to the east where the soil quality is poor which actually is good for growing grapes.  Soil in the northern portion of the Lodi AVA is rocky and in the southern region soil is comprised of heavy clay which produces concentrated and complex Zinfandel wines. There are 7 grape growing appellations in the greater Lodi viticulture area.


Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, California is home to 70 wineries nestled in this 16-mile long and 2-mile wide valley that has a 140 year history of grape growing.  The Dry Creek AVA has one of the most populous Old Vine Zinfandel growth concentrations in the world.  The Dry Creek Valley is located just one hour north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in Northern Sonoma County.

Known for producing world-class Zinfandel the Dry Creek Valley also produces Bordeaux and Rhone grape varietals.  Grape growers from this area are devoted to preserving the natural beauty of the valley through implementation of sustainable, organic, and biodynamic farming practices.  Most of the 70 wineries in this area are small family-owned operations with limited production premium wines.

Dry Creek Valley is located along fault lines created by uplift and alluvial soil matter as a result of ancient seismic activity.  The valley floor is a deep mixture of composites of well drained gravel and sandy loam producing rich fruit.  The benches and hillsides are composed of gravelly clay-loam that often is vibrant red in color.  This rocky soil is well drained and induces late season stress on the vines producing grapes of exceptional varietal character.


Terroir is not just soil, weather plays a great role in an areas ability to produce exceptional grapes that express extraordinary varietal character.  The Dry Creek Valley has it all, great soil and climatic conditions that are ideal for growing wine grapes.

Dry Creek is situated 70 miles north of San Francisco and 20 miles east of the Pacific Ocean.  Lake Sonoma borders the valley to the north with the confluence of Dry Creek and the Russian River to the south.  This is a Region II climatic growing area similar to that of Bordeaux with daily temperatures rising only to the mid-80’s.  The coastal mountain range protects the valley from the cool oceanic influence but at night just the opposite is true, the mountains draw the cool moist air into the valley letting the grapes rest while concentrating and balancing fruit, sugar, and acidity.  All necessary components to make great wine.

If you are a Zinfandel fan or looking to expand your wine palate both of these valued selections are tasty examples of wine from the Lodi and Dry Creek Valley AVA’s.



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