After a cold, dark, wet winter, Sonoma Valley comes to life in March. As days grow longer and temperatures rise into the 60s, sap begins to rise in grapevines that have been dormant throughout the winter. Old vine zinfandels like this one in Kunde’s Shaw vineyard are the last to awaken, so on this frosty March morning, while vineyard crews attend to the younger vines, the star of our show waits patiently for her turn.


Wine grapes have been grown on the Kunde's land since 1879, when two pioneers by the names of James Shaw and Capt. John Drummond imported vines from Chateaux Margaux and Lafite Rothschild. They planted their vines in the style of the times, mixing Zinfandels, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah and Carignane in the same vineyards. Grapes from these so-called field blends were picked together and thrown into one fermenting tank where they aged together nicely into rich Sonoma Valley red wines. Some of these old vines have survived for a century or more, while others on either side caught viruses, fell ill or simply died of old age.

The oldest surviving vines on the Kunde ranch date back to 1892 and are designated Century Vines, but I was attracted to a slightly younger Old Vine Zinfandel. At an estimated 80 years of age, it suffers from all the symptoms of its elders: termite holes, flaky bark, mossy patches and amputation scars. Even so, it stands upright without aid, roots firmly planted in the red volcanic soil known as "Red Hill" series. Gnarly branches resembling arthritic fingers grasp for their fair share of the fog, sun and rain that bring sleeping grapevines to life in the spring. There's something hopeful about the sight, something captivating enough to keep me coming back for progress reports throughout the summer and fall harvest season.