St. Peters’ Church Vineyard
My family moved to the Dry Creek Valley in 1979, and we became parishioners of St. Peters’ Church in Cloverdale, CA, at that time. In 1985, after graduating from the University of California, Davis, I returned home to my parents house in Dry Creek, and began helping my dad out on his vineyard, and looking for vineyards to farm on my own. We learned from the pastor of St. Peters, Father Henry, that he had a vineyard share-cropper farming the small vineyard back behind the church. The grapes from the vines, which included Zinfandel, Carignane, and several heirloom varieties, were sold to large producers and blended, and didn’t return much in the way of income to the church.
Upon taking over the vineyard in the early 1990s, I tried to tap into the old vine nature of the zinfandel, to see if I could place the grapes with a higher end producer, and make the vineyard a more economical venture both for the church, and my fledgling vineyard management business. I first sold the grapes to White Oak Vineyard, which was the first to bottle the grapes under a vineyard designate label, in 1992. By the mid 1990s, I met Kent Rosenblum through my clients and zin-fans Cheri Kratka and Marshall Harris. It was easy to see the match between the old church vineyard and Rosenblum small lot premium zinfandel releases, and the potential of St. Peters’ Church Vineyard was finally realized.
Farming the vineyard was difficult, as the lack of trellising and close spacing made it difficult to get equipment into the vineyard. But it was apparent to me, just from tasting the grapes, that there was something special here. Also, for an old vineyard, there was none of the typical red leaves, which are often an indicator of grape leafroll virus. This was because the vineyard was so old, it was actually planted before leaf roll virus became endemic in California, and spread from vineyard to vineyard via cuttings. The vineyard was most likely planted in the late 1800’s.
When it came time to plant my own vineyard in 1994, I was faced with a difficult decision. This was the height of the Merlot boom in California, and I knew any red grape variety would excel at my location on the heights of Rockpile. But at the same time I was sensing the cult following and enthusiasm that Zinfandel generated, and thought this would be an opportunity to make my vineyard something special. I made the final decision in August of 1994, and instructed the grafters to bring the St. Peters’ budwood out to the vineyard for grafting. (While my Petit Sirah was sourced elsewhere, I did take a few Alicante Bouchet cuttings from the few vines scattered among the St. Peters’ Church Vineyard, to establish a small planting of Alicante at Rockpile as well).
St. Peters’ Church vineyard was originally planted with Carignane and other varieties around the perimeter, and Zinfandel inside. This had the effect of partially shielding the Zinfandel from deer, and kept it especially well preserved decades later. When I semi-retired to just farming my own vineyard in 2003, my old vineyard management partner continued farming St. Peter’s Church Vineyard, and made some changes, including replacing Carignane with some new Zinfandel plantings.—by Jack Florence, Jr.