There’s a mischievous side of me that loves when people from warmer climates arrive in Minnesota smack dab in the middle of a deep freeze. You know the feeling: it gives us a one up. “Not that bad. Didn’t you see those joggers running around in short sleeves?” All the while they have a look of panic on their faces, like they forgot to stock up on protein bars to make it through the season.
But these two guys were different. They almost seemed to relish the below zero windchills of a January in Minnesota. It speaks about their general demeanor and zest for life.
The two guys are Morgan Twain-Peterson and his business partner Chris Cottrell of Bedrock Wine Company, who were recently in the Twin Cities to educate the local industry about their project. I spent a good amount of time on a wintery Wednesday afternoon with them at Kim Bartmann‘s The Third Bird off Loring Park.
I’ve always been a HUGE fan of Zinfandel, going back to a business and personal relationship I had with the Seghesio family when they still owned their winery (they sold to Crimson in 2011, which they did for all the right reasons), and many friends at Ridge including their vineyard manager, Minnesotan David Gates. Traveling through the winding roads of Sonoma County my favorite stops are often simply pulling over on the side of the road to photograph the oldest looking vineyards I can find. This is why the Bedrock Wine Company was on my radar.
Morgan-Twain Peterson (son of Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson) and best buddy Chris Cottrell described in detail when the seed was planted for their operation: after the movie Sideways came out and the rush to Pinot Noir overtook the sensibilities of many in California, they saw a handful of terrific old vine Zinfandel vineyards in the Russian River Valley being ripped out and planted to Pinot Noir to try to cash in on the latest fad. “Never mind it was clay over gravel, or never mind if the microclimate was totally wrong for Pinot Noir. We lost those vineyards. They are now gone,” says Peterson, “and that pissed us off.”
On a quest to preserve and highlight specific places, Peterson and Cottrell have established not only a pretty amazing brand with a great story but have taken it upon themselves to help preserve the genetic heritage of the old vineyards.
It starts with a sheet of graph paper. Peterson walks the vineyards himself, and inspects every single vine. Let me repeat that: every … single … vine. Tens of thousands of them. “I can identify 23 to 26 different varieties right away, but in some of these old vineyards we come across vines that we just don’t know. Then I call Chris in and we debate about it. Then maybe we call in Tegan (Passalacqua, of Turley), or David (Gates, of Ridge) and we all stand around this one vine and debate. Then we make our best guess, take a cutting, and send it in for DNA analysis. And nine times out of ten we’re all wrong.”
Within their Bedrock Heritage Vineyard alone, they’ve found vines that are either unknown to vine geneticists, or they turn out to be from old Europe where they were thought to be extinct. (Personally, I can’t wait to go to California to see these vines … this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard about and worthy of an article in itself. I’ll be leading a tour to Sonoma this year focusing on old vineyards and I hope we can include the Bedrock Heritage Vineyard on the itinerary.)
After watching vineyards planted in the late 1800’s being ripped out, and knowing there was no legal definition of “old vines,” they formed a group of knowledgeable and concerned winemakers and vineyard managers to lead the Historic Vineyard Society, set up as a nonprofit to help preserve this distinctive heritage of California.
One of the measurements they use is beautiful in its simplicity. What is the minimum age for a “heritage vineyard”? As Cottrell said, “50 years. Same minimum age used for a building of historic designation. If you think about it, a building can earn historic designation and thus protection and tax advantages for keeping it in good shape for the betterment of all. We are using the same model for vineyards.”
The Bedrock Wine Company production is incredibly diverse, including Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma Valley, a Grenache from the Gibson Ranch of Mendocino, a “Heritage White” from old vines in Sonoma Valley (“Planted in 1954 to a field-blend of Gewurtzraminer, Riesling, Trousseau Gris, Roter Veltliner, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris, along with others” … love it), a Godello of all things (I didn’t even know Godello was planted anywhere in California), plus their extensive Zinfandel selections. How many wines do they make in a given year? Around 26. Many are so limited they sell out through their mailing list. Others are so extremely limited they simply use them for charity donation and fundraisers (“otherwise we piss off too many people that can’t get their hands on it” says Peterson). See the Bedrock website for more information on the wines and the vineyard sources.
In the Twin Cities you can find a cross section of their wines at many of the finest small wine shops (major supporters include Sunfish Cellars, South Lyndale Liquors, France 44, and North Loop Wine and Spirits) but don’t expect them to be in stock every time you go shopping. Many of these wines are limited to the extreme, with some shops only getting one case here and there of the single vineyard selections.
If you’re interested in Zinfandel and find fascination with these old vineyards, check out my upcoming Zinfandel Masterclass, which will feature a wine or two from Bedrock Wine Company.
These are wines of distinctive quality, and deserve to be sought out not only based on inherent yumminess but also what they represent in the bigger picture of the California wine world: legacy, multi-generational winemaking, and preservation of history. Well done Morgan and Chris!
Further articles on Bedrock Wine Company
New York Times: California Wines Score Style Points