Something Old, Something New
At JUSTIN, we are justifiably proud of our heritage as farmers. In 1981, when Justin Baldwin first began planting our vines on the rock-strewn western edge of what is now the Adelaida District of the Paso Robles AVA, the risks were huge and the flourishing of successful Bordeaux varieties was uncertain. Not all of those original vines still stand, but many do, and for good reason: quality.
Vine maturity is one of the most frequently cited quality factors in wine. As with so much else in modern wine, we owe our interest in “old vines” to the French, where the more mellifluous vieilles vignes are an enhancement of many a fine wine label in Burgundy or the Rhône Valley. Why are old vines important? The answer is, of course, complex and varied. Flavor, consistency, natural defenses, and predictable fruit yield are among the reasons we love old vines. Not to mention the sense of stability, tradition, and permanence they add to our image.
Vines are often likened to human beings: when young, they can’t take very good care of themselves, and produce no valuable fruit; as adolescents they can be rambunctious and hyperproductive, pushing plant material in unpredictable ways; and in later years, usually after their first decade, welltrained and managed, they settle into a potentially long and balanced life of generally consistent maturity, albeit with slightly declining yields. Assuming no disease, virus, or other threat, a grapevine can survive over 100 years in an ideal environment.
Thanks to good fortune and wise planning, we’ve developed some vineyard blocks dating back to the winery’s founding, and they continue to deliver ideal clusters of uniformly ripe fruit. In some cases, the vine spacing is wider than we might currently practice in younger, replanted blocks; and we also see somewhat variable fruiting zones for different blocks, depending on cordon training. As we continue to append vineyard sites with minimal external inputs, we can rotate blocks in and out as we need. This is all the better, as the variation in vine age on our properties means stability for the long term of our estate.
Our two most prominent blocks with older vines are planted to cabernet franc and merlot, the former at higher elevation on our hillside, and thelatter on a soft swell about midway up. These, of course, are critical varieties in our blending programs for ISOSCELES and JUSTIFICATION. They possess a nuance of flavor, a certain “breed” that is simply not possible with younger, denser vineyards. And while cabernet sauvignon continues to be our primary variety, vine age is not such a great advantage for that variety. Here is where we do our most prominent replanting, as cabernet sauvignon vines are usually diminished more quickly by time and nature.
As many a winemaker would note, the key to good wine is good farming. Nurturing some vines well into vielles stature while replacing those that begin to falter is a critical feature of responsible, wise vineyard management—and consistently delicious wine.