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April 19, 2023

CA’s Old Vineyard Heroes

Promoting the wildly varied vines of pre-Prohibition days

Long before the era of high-end California Cabs and Chard (and more lately Pinot Noir), there were lots and lots of other wine grapes grown in the Golden State.

Prior to Prohibition (1920-1933) gutting America’s wine traditions, many growers planted Zinfandel alongside dozens of other Old-World grapes in vineyards that added character and complexity to the final “field blend” that was all fermented together. In such a way – one variety could add power, another (sometimes white) could add acidity, another aromas, spice and so on.

These hand-worked head-trained vineyards, of course, varied from year to year – without the use of modern technology.

Today, making wines from what’s left of these antique vineyards is exciting stuff. 

Tegan Passalacqua with Morgan Twain-Peterson

Tegan Passalacqua (left) with Morgan Twain-Peterson in the 19th-century Nervo vineyard south of Geyserville (Sonoma Co.)

On my recent trip to California, I caught up with two important players in the movement to preserve old (Pre-Prohibition) vineyards and make delicious field blends: Tegan Passalacqua winemaker at Napa-based Turley and his own Sandlands label, and Morgan Twain-Peterson of Sonoma-based Bedrock Wine Co.

Beyond the romance of preservation, their wines changed how I think about California wine and its great potential.  

To learn more, read my latest Robert Camuto Meets at