Oregon's Oldest Vines* The Pines 1852

Down in the Columbia River Gorge there are some old Zinfandel vines that are giving Northwest wine fans a look at what old vines in this part of the country can do. At the heart of the estate vineyards at The Pines 1852 are Zinfandel vines that are over one hundred years old.

A stalwart in the growing of vinifera grapes here in the Northwest, Lonnie Wright is the proprietor of The Pines 1852. Lonnie got his start working in 1978 beside some of Washington and the Northwest's viticultural pioneers they planted the original vineyards at Chateau Ste. Michelle's Columbia Crest. Lonnie spent time throughout Washington and Oregon and became known as a skilled and knowledgeable vineyard manager. In the early 80s Lonnie started working with someone who was planting vineyards on their property which included some old and neglected vines in The Dalles, Oregon.

Lonnie worked on that project all the while continuing to plant vineyards for others. Fruit from these various vineyards was going to notable wineries in the Northwest like Sineann, Owen Roe, Maryhill and Cathedral Ridge. Lonnie eventually bought that land in The Dalles that he had long been working and leasing, including those old neglected Zinfandel vines from the late 1800s. These Zinfandel vines were originally planted by Louis Comini, an Italian immigrant and stone mason who brought the vines from his homeland of Italy. Most of the wine producing vineyards in the Northwest were eradicated during Prohibition. Those old vines survived by being used to make sacramental wine. In addition to time and cultural change, the vines also survived severe neglect. With Lonnie's care and knowledge they were revived to the point where they were producing fruit again. Lonnie was selling that fruit to Sineann's Peter Rosback; this is the fruit used in that winery’s Old Vine flagship wine.

In 2001 Lonnie decided to keep some of that old Zinfandel and make a wine of his own out of it. He started his own winery and solicited the help of longtime friend and partner Peter Rosback to make his wine for The Pines 1852. Lonnie and his daughter Sierra are now selling their wines in their tasting room in downtown Hood River, Oregon.

The Pines is producing a Merlot and Syrah and two Zinfandels from their estate vines. Of the two Zinfandels one is from the old vines as well as a wine from a block that was planted in 1987 from cuttings taken from that old vine block. In addition to the estate wines, The Pines is also making wine from other vineyards and blending their estate fruit with wine from other sites. The most notable wine of course is that Old Vine Zinfandel, but the Big Red is a well done blend and their Pinot Gris is a food wine with a load of acidity. A look at their full catalog is available here.

Part of what makes Northwest wine so exciting is that it's all so young and still figuring out what works and what doesn't - from choosing the right grape clones to how to best orient the vineyards. The style of wine being made at The Pines - while New World - speaks to terroir and character that reminds many of the Old World wines. With all this new and exciting potential ahead of us, it's great to try such a rare example of some of the Northwest's oldest vineyards and wonder where we might be if it weren't for Prohibition.

* I don't know if these are actually Oregon's oldest vines, quit being so damn literal.