Bucklin produces four wines from its Old Hill Ranch vineyard that was first planted in 1852 by William McPherson Hill who had moved to San Francisco from Philadelphia. Rather than seeking his fortune in California's gold fields, he invested in San Francisco real estate where he made a fortune. Some of his money went to purchase ranch land in Glen Ellen in the Sonoma Valley.
He planted what was the area's first vineyard using cuttings imported from Peru. Unlike the common practice at the time, the vineyard did not include the then dominant Mission grape. As early as 1856, he enlarged the vineyard using the typical "field blend" approach of many different varieties interspersed in a seemingly random pattern. Most of the new plantings were Zinfandel but there were at least two dozen varieties that the current owners have been identified as still producing.
While little information exists on Hill's wines, reports about the 1866 vintage of his Zinfandel say that it was a sensation and produced a stampede to plant this previously little know variety. Unfortunately, only a small portion of Hill's original vineyard remains. Fortunately, what does remain allows Will Bucklin to make annually about 2000 cases of extremely desirable wines.
Now know as the Old Hill Ranch Vineyard, it did not remain in William Hill's ownership and, production was not maintained throughout ownership changes, Prohibition etc. When the property was purchased by Otto Teller in 1983 the vineyard was hardly recognizable. It was overgrown with blackberries and had become a dumping place for discarded automobiles, building fixtures, and miscellaneous junk. But Teller recognized what he had and rather than follow the advice of consultants to tear out the vines and replant, he carefully cleared the junk and tended the vines back into good condition.
In 1984, Teller sold his production to Joel Peterson at Ravenswood who produced his Old Hill Zinfandel with the fruit and Ravenswood is the only other winery using fruit from Old Hill Ranch. Teller's health began to decline in the 1990s and in 1998 Will Bucklin moved from Oregon's Pinot Noir country were he was making wine to Glen Ellen to take over wine making at Old Hill Ranch. With the support of his three siblings, Bucklin winery was founded and released its first vintage in 2000.
The vineyard is dry farmed and certified organic. Some of the property has been replanted. A block of Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in 1984 and a block of Zinfandel in 1999. These new blocks produce well made, desirable wines which will only improve as the vines age. But the glory of Bucklin remains with its old vine wines carefully tended and lovingly made by Will Bucklin. If you don't know Bucklin wines and you like old vine wines which are quite different from those produced from younger vines, you should make every effort to find them. If you prefer younger vine Zinfandel, the Bucklin Bambino is worth a search as is its Cabernet. If you can't find them, the winery will ship: www.buckzin.com. If you want to learn more about Old Hill Ranch, there are photographs and a map of the vineyard on the website. Notes on the current releases follow.
The 2008 Grenache, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley, $28, 73 cases, is a blend of 75% old vine Grenache and 25% mixed, old vine Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, and Mourvèdre. It was aged in French oak, 30% new, for 12-14 months. A dark, intense, ripe nose of blackberry, black cherry, dark chocolate, soft flack pepper, earth, and hints of smoke and oak introduce flavors of the same laced with nice acidity and fine, smooth tannin. Everything carries through the very long and very broad finish. The wine has a lovely palate feel, good body, balance, integration, and structure. If Ch. Rayas were made in the Sonoma Valley, this might be the result. Outstanding. Best Wine.
The 2008 Bambino, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley, $24, is a Zinfandel made from a block planted in 1999. Aged for fourteen months in American oak, 30% new, it is primarily Zinfandel co-fermented with some Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, and Grenache. Light, fresh aromas of cherry, black raspberry, currant, anise, and cedar lead to juicy, bright flavors of the same accented with light, very fine tannin and nice acidity. It finishes medium-broad to broad, long, and persistent. Well balanced, integrated, and structured. Very Good.
The 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley, $34, 875 cases, is a Zinfandel dominated field blend that includes Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Garignane, Tempranillo, Tannat, Grand Noir, and other red varieties. It matured in 30% new French oak for twenty months and opens big, dark, rich, and smoky with black cherry, black raspberry, blackberry, spice, oak, and sweet licorice most prominent. Smooth, rich, ripe flavors of the same plus pepper are accented with a sweet note and shot through with very fine tannin and nice acidity before a medium-broad, very long finish. Well structured, balanced, and integrated, this is a big, rich, bold old vine Zinfandel that is elegant and not over done or in your face. Excellent. Best Wine.
The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley, $30, 275 cases, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the block planted in 1984. It matured in French oak, 80% new for about 24 months. Aromas of smoke, currant, blackberry, cherry, cranberry, vanilla, cedar, and tarragon precede ripe, juicy, fresh, lively flavors of the same that have good presence without being big or heavy and are well balanced and structured. The finish is long and very broad. Easily drinkable now, it should grow nicely with some more time in the bottle. Very Good.