(This Article was first published on Antiochonthemove.com)
California wines bring images of the rolling hills of Napa Valley, the lush valleys of Healdsburg, and the rich flavors of Russian River and Sonoma Valley wines. The secret that many of these winemakers and labels don’t tell you is that many of the layers of their beloved, and sought after wines may have come from Antioch’s own Evangelho Vineyards.
A Bit of History
For some wine enthusiasts and grape experts, Evangelho Vineyard is one of the most unique vineyards in all of California. If you are familiar with wine, you can confirm that it does not have the same romantic charm that more well-known vineyards have with rolling hills, grand estates, and formal tasting rooms. But, great winemakers will remind you, it is not the grand estate or fancy tasting room that makes a fine wine. Fine wines start with exceptional grapes.
Evangelho Vineyard was planted over 130 years ago by Portuguese immigrants. Unlike other heritage vineyards, but very common to ancient styles of growing, Evangelho has a wide variety of grapes within the vineyard, including Zinfandel, Carignan, Mourvedre, Alicante Bouchet, Muscat, and Palomino. Before technology that allowed winemakers to blend and manipulate wines, diverse vineyards is what the expert growers practiced.
Unique Growing Conditions Make for Excellent Wine Making Grapes
Outside of the blended grape varietals planted together throughout the vineyard, there are also other important characteristics and conditions that make these grapes spectacular. First, the grapes at Evangelho Vineyards are “own-rooted,” while modern vineyards are planted with a hybrid rootstock that is phylloxera-resistant, these aged vines are planted with their original roots. This has several benefits. First, rooted vines have a concentration and purity that does not exist in the hybrid rootstock. Second, after a major phylloxera outbreak in the 1800s, there are very few vineyards that are own-rooted vines that remain. These vines are somewhat of a phenomenon.
Another unique condition is that this vineyard is completely dry farmed. In a farming community where irrigation means life, having an incredibly aged vineyard without irrigation is surprising. Partially, “own-rooted” vines need significantly less water than those planted with rootstock. These vines are also planted in very sandy soil, which is typically not ideal for grapes. However, even in summer temperatures that reach over 100 degrees, these vines produce healthy crops without ever watering the vineyards. The vines are buried into the sandy soil 40 feet deep and get their water source and nutrition naturally under the ground.
Perhaps of greatest importance is that Evangelho Vineyards is the last, and only vineyard in Antioch. There are other dry-farmed, ancient vineyards throughout the country. However, this remaining vineyard offers a special piece of Antioch history and feeds into the current wine-making industry in California.
How to Taste Evangelho Wines
Bedrock Wine Company took over the Evangelho Vineyard in Antioch several years ago. Bedrock’s Owner and Winemakers, Morgan Twain-Peterson, has been making wines from the Evangelho Vineyards since 2011. Twain-Peterson has long touted his desire to protect heritage vineyards – and so purchasing Evangelho Vineyard only makes sense. This means, to taste the rich wine notes made from the aged heritage Evangelho Vines, a bottle from Bedrock Wine Company will introduce some unique flavors of Evangelho Vineyard.
Contra Costa County has long been a grape-growing region. What is not so well-known is Antioch’s contribution to this rich history that still feeds into the culture that is a proud part of California. Although the ancient vines may just look like a blip of dusty plants, they are a hidden piece of history that continues to define the relevance of Antioch, today.