Lodi’s Legendary Ancient Vine Bechthold Vineyard

With a wine-grape growing history that dates back more than 100 years, Lodi has a richly deserved reputation for old vine vineyards.

But there is one ancient vine vineyard – Bechthold Vineyard that stands apart from the rest. That’s because the twenty-five acre own-rooted Bechthold vineyard, planted in 1886 by German immigrant Joseph Spenker, is the oldest continuously farmed vineyard in Lodi. 

 

Al and Wanda Bechthold with Onesta’s Jillian Johnson-Image Courtesy Lodi Winegrape Commission

 

What makes the Bechthold Vineyard even more noteworthy, is that is planted to the largely underappreciated red wine grape Cinsault rather Zinfandel, which is the grape variety most wine aficionados associate with old vine vineyards. 

Cinsault, which tends be low in tannin is generally used to add aromatics and spicy component to Southern Rhone Valley style wine blends.

Nestled in the Mokelumne River area of Lodi, the organically dry farmed vineyard with head-trained vines is believed to be the world’s oldest surviving Cinsault vineyard.

Its thick-trunked and gnarly twisted vines resemble short trees rather than grape vines.  

 

Image Courtesy of Lodi Winegrape Commission

 

Famous for its stunningly expressive Cinsault, this venerated vineyard is not only alive and well its fruit is sold to prized clients like Bonny Doon, Scholium Project, Turley Wine Cellars, and Michael- David Winery.  There is a waiting list for the much sought after fruit. 

In 2014, it was named the "Vineyard of the Year" by the California State Fair.

But Bechthold Vineyard’s eminence is a relatively recent occurrence.   

For more than 100 years the grapes were believed to be Black Malvoisie, a non- premium blending grape of little interest to commercial winemakers in California.  For this reason, most of the fruit was sold to home winemakers and wineries in other states.   

Then in 2003 after DNA testing at UC Davis, the vineyard was reintroduced as Cinsault. 

Before that, the Bechthold’s were getting a measly $200 a ton for its grapes.  

Continuing to farm the grapes at that price is a testament not only to multi-generational farming that seems more prevalent in Lodi than in any other premium-grape growing region, it is also a testament to the family’s commitment to preserving the heritage of the ancient vines.

Of course, the best way to appreciate a Bechthold Vineyard ancient vine Cinsault is to taste for yourself.

What you’ll discover is a wine with a perfumed, elegant, finessed, refreshing red fruit (think strawberry, raspberries, Bing cherry or pomegranate) and sweet spice character.

In the glass and at the table, the wine may bring to mind a Grand Cru Beaujolais. It’s a red wine perfectly suited for the transition from summer to fall. 

Pair with Peking duck, Roast Chicken, simply grilled pork, lamb or veal, a fruity tagine, or vegetarian dishes with butternut squash or sweet potato.  It would also be a great companion for your Thanksgiving meal.  

Consider picking up a bottle or two!  Look for bottles of Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault from Michael David, Fields Family Wines, Two Shepherds, Onesta, Turley, and Estate Crush.

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Martin Redmond

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