There are few times when one can visit a place and feel an absolute connection to the ground, understanding the true characteristics and expression of the space.
Standing in Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard was one such time.
Planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker in the western section of Lodi in what is now the Mokelumne River AVA, the 25 acre Bechthold Vineyard is one of America’s prized heritage vineyards and has been determined to potentially be the oldest Cinsault vineyard in the world.
For years, the grapes were sold as Black Malvoisie, garnering little attention from winemakers and selling at less than the cost to farm the vineyard. In fact, the only reason the Bechthold vineyard was kept intact was due to nostalgia on the part of the family, preferring to keep the vineyard as a memento to Joseph Spenker’s original vineyard planting.
It was not until the early 2000’s when the so-called Black Malvoisie was tested by UC Davis that the vineyard was discovered to in fact be planted to Cinsault, a Southern French variety prevalent in Provence and the Rhone.
And while Cinsault has long been planted throughout the south of France, due to Phylloxera and French vineyard management styles, the older vines had been uprooted to make way for younger plantings.
Thus the 128 year old Bechthold vineyard, head-trained and still planted on original rootstock due to the sandy soils, was determined to be the oldest Cinsault vineyard in existence.
Light bodied and incredibly aromatic, Cinsault is a variety often overlooked and one that many consumers are still not familiar with.
William Allen, winemaker for Two Shepherds Winery, refers to Cinsault as the “red-headed stepchild of Grenache, generally not offering much complexity, which is why it is often seen as a blending grape.”
Yet “the old vines [of Bechthold] really make a difference” he continues, discussing the complexity added by the heritage vineyard. “It was the Bechthold Vineyard that really taught me the value of old-vines”
While Two Shepherds Winery is not currently on the allotment list for Bechthold, Allen is able to acquire grapes second-hand from the Michael David winery, which is currently in charge of Bechthold’s vineyard management. With this fruit, Allen makes a delightful, whole-cluster Becthold Cinsault that is worth seeking out, though at only 35 cases, it is incredibly hard to come by.
Organically cultivated and dry farmed, the Bechthold Vineyard currently has a ten- year waiting list and only a few producers have access to the fruit. Turley, Scholium Project, Bonny Doon, Michael David and Onesta are amongst the primary producers who receive allotments, and even amongst these producers, competition for fruit is fierce.
Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, who was a driving force in reviving the vineyard, still speaks disdainfully about how his access to the fruit continues to be cut each year.
And while Grahm discussed his love of incorporating the Bechthold Cinsault into his numerous Rhone blends, more and more of the vineyard’s fruit is being allotted to those who produce single-vineyard bottlings that highlight the uniqueness and sense of place of the Bechthold Vineyard.
To experience for the magic of Bechthold for yourself, seek out these three gems:
Jillian Johnson’s Onesta Cinsault displays a light and lively expression of the Bechthold Vineyard. Perfumed aromas of vibrant wild strawberries and rose petals dance in the glass and the wine finishes with a touch of earth on the finish. Johnson also makes a delightful Cinsault rose from the vineyard as well. Less than 400 cases produced.
Retail price – $30
Teegan Passalacqua’s 100% whole cluster Cinsault offers structure and weight along with great texture and minerality. The fruit seems a bit darker here with notes of black cherry and tart pomegranate.
Retail price – $20
Two Shepherds Cinsault
William Allen’s Cinsault is a gorgeous wine, displaying complex aromatics and ripe berry flavors that are well integrated with the spicy, slightly herbal notes. Whole cluster fermented with bright acidity, a truly elegant wine.
Only 35 cases made!
Retail Price – $35
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