Written by Annelise Kelly, Oregon Wine Press, May 2, 2023. Photo: Lonnie Wright, owner of The Pines 1852 Winery and vineyard of the same name, planted between 1890-1900 (left) standing with Boyd Teegarden, winemaker and co-owner of Natalie’s Estate Winery (right).

Oregon feels rightfully proud of its groundbreaking role in American viticulture. While many of the early adopters in the Oregon wine world planted their vines within living memory–for example, David Lett with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 1965, establishing The Eyrie Vineyards– there were also vineyards nurtured by generations long departed. Two celebrated examples are the surviving zinfandel grapevines of Louis Comini near The Dalles over a century ago, and the long-gone vines planted by Peter Britt in Jacksonville in 1854.

While Comini and Britt were true settlers in the covered-wagon sense, industry pioneers such as Lett planted vineyards in the ‘60s and ‘70s. (Even a 1980 vine, planted after the Oregon wine industry was solidly established, is approaching 45 years of age.) These early-adopter grapevines grown and thrived for 50 years or more, and share a singular prestige for many winemakers and connoisseurs.

Similar to humans, older vines possess a stamina and complexity cultivated by decades of perseverance and experience. Many wine aficionados believe old vines produce grapes of exceptional quality, justifiably prized by winemakers and wine lovers alike. “I think certainly there is something special about old vines and the wine they produce,” says Claire Jarreau of Brooks Wines. “If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be talking about them; we wouldn’t be making bottlings for old vine sites or blocks.”

What is it about these vintage vines? Do they merit the mystique? We spoke with five Oregon winemakers for their insights: Claire Jarreau, associate winemaker at Brooks Wines in Amity, where they have five acres of Riesling planted between 1973-75 as well as an roughly four and a half acre block of Pinot Noir planted in 1973 and 1974; Jason Lett, proprietor and winemaker at The Eyrie Vineyards in McMinnville, where the original 1965 block is supplemented by vines planted in the 1970s and 1980s; Boyd Teegarden, winemaker and co-owner at Natalie’s Estate Winery in Newberg, who buys Zinfandel grapes from the 19th century vines at The Pines 1852; Alex Fullerton, winemaker and co-owner at Fullerton Wines in Portland, who works with Pinot Gris planted in 1969, Sauvignon Blanc planted in 1972 and Pinot Noir planted in 1982; and Lonnie Wright, owner of The Pines 1852 Winery and the man responsible for restoring the original vineyard to production. While he doesn’t know the exact age of his seven-acre block of old vines, evidence suggests they were planted sometime between 1890 to 1900.

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