Home Wine Business Editorial Opinion The “Golden Rule”: Communicating Stories of Old Vines

The “Golden Rule”: Communicating Stories of Old Vines

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Old vines are an essence of why great wines have always had an enduring appeal.

By Randy Caparoso

 

Just minutes before the virtual awards webinar showcasing the 2024 Old Vine Hero Awards (presented by the London-based The Old Vine Conference on March 25, 2024), distinguished journalist and JancisRobinson.com‘s Sustainability and Senior Editor Tamlyn Currin conducted a speedy email “interview” with me. 

Currin peppered me with questions in preparation for her on-air introduction. I was presented to the international online audience by Currin as the winner of the Old Vine Hero Award for Communication, alongside five other recipients recognized for their old vine research, viticulture, winemaking, overall impact and commercial impact. 

During the webinar itself, of course, there was no time to cover all the material previously discussed with Currin. But I think it’s worthwhile to share, as it addresses the challenge of communicating the importance and benefits of old vines around the world — a phenomenon that is steadily shrinking (as opposed to growing, as we’d like it to be). 

Here is our exchange:

Currin: Randy, how did you become obsessed with old vines, and then, in particular, the old vines of Lodi? 

Caparoso: When I first visited Lodi 22 years ago [in 2002], I was struck by its Mediterranean climate and deep sandy soils, which reminded me of vineyards I’d seen in South-West France. It was a perfect environment for long-lived, healthy grapevines, especially Mediterranean varieties. I was not surprised to immediately learn that there are far more acres of old vines (in California, “old vine” is defined as vineyards planted between the 1800s and 1960s) in Lodi than anywhere else in the country. In 2010, I moved into a cottage in the middle of a 60-year-old vineyard of Zinfandel, growing on its own roots, and have been “stuck in Lodi” ever since.

Original Grandpere Vineyard (Amador County) owner/grower Terri Harvey; California’s oldest Zinfandel planting,dated back to 1869

Currin: What are the different powers and impacts of the many different media you use: paper (books, magazine), digital writing (blogs, online columns), audio (lecturing, public speaking, podcasts) and visual (photography)? 

Caparoso: It is necessary to keep speaking about old vine viticulture in public forums precisely because old vine wines still have a minority appeal among consumers — although, slowly but surely, interest in the topic of “old vines” has been growing. Photography, in fact, is another key to journalism focused on old vines, which is mostly digital these days, although I have published a successful book [re Lodi!] touching on the subject. 

The crux of old vine plantings is that they have history. Wine lovers are naturally captivated by their stories as well as endless images of old vines, which seem to have the wisdom of age etched into their large, twisting trunks and spurs. It is the very robust physiology of old vines, which has a strong visual appeal, that gives them advantage in terms of long-term grapevine health and enhanced ability to produce wines with stronger than average terroir expression. Generally speaking, the older the vine, the stronger their “sense of place” in the glass, which turns on wine lovers.

Cinsaut grape harvest in Bechthold Vineyard; the oldest vineyard in Lodi, planted in 1886

Currin: Do you have a favorite medium? Is one easier to use than another? Is one more rewarding than another? 

Caparoso: Books and print magazines are still important, but there’s no question we are more easily able to reach more consumers, as well as more trade and media, through online articles as relayed through social media. Make no mistake, we are in a losing battle right now, insofar as communicating the reasons why old vine wines should be better appreciated. We are losing thousands of acres as we speak. Therefore, any kind of medium that reaches wine lovers and the rest of the wine industry is a “best way” to celebrate old vines.

Currin: Should we be weaving these platforms into each other? 

Caparoso: Absolutely! I do traditional journalism and photography distributed primarily through online sites and blogs, but videos are another key to getting out the message. The people I work for, the grape growers belonging to the Lodi Winegrape Commission, have also been creating high value production videos telling the stories of old vineyards and the families who have been caring for them. In Lodi, these are families who have been doing this, for the most part, for more than 100 years. We are still losing more and more old vine blocks as we speak, but the more we can increase appreciation of them, the better. 

Certified Historic Vineyard Society sign in Lizzy James Vineyard; a Lodi Zinfandel block first planted in 1904

Currin: What, for you, is the “golden rule” or “‘basic tenet” of communication — or rather, of communication that drives change? 

Caparoso: The “rule,” if anything, is “tell the truth.” Old vineyards and old vine wines speak for themselves. They do not need hype and should not require “high scores” to appeal to the consumers and industry. They go against the grain of how the wine industry largely operates today because they are real, they have historical significance and they represent the authenticity of terroir and appellations, which are still the base values of all the finest wines of the world. Old vines are an essence of why great wines have always had an enduring appeal. 

Currin: What will it take, do you think, to set unstoppable change in motion? 

Caparoso: Keep fighting. Organize locally, nationally and internationally. It’s really hard for small regional groups to even get started on this, because it takes the energy, time and dedication of a few inspired individuals — and, in most cases, a big budget. You’re also fighting against convention, because most wines sold today follow commercial constructs and marketing plans that don’t require placing value on older vineyards. 

Not to be critical, but the media, while captivated by old vines, is also not as cooperative as it could be. It would rather publicize top brands and high scoring wines, and glamorize vintners and lifestyles, not so much creaky old vineyards. As my old friend Kermit Lynch once put it, it’s all about “pop” — popular styles, popular tastes, wines that go “pop” or “bang-bang” in the mouth. Wines expressing old vine terroir are way down on the priority list of most media outlets. 

The world owes resounding gratitude to The Old Vine Conference for tackling the issue of vanishing old vine viticulture on an international scale. But it will also take every country, every region, maybe every sub-region or community to make a concerted effort to bring attention to their own treasure trove of old vine plantings. 

Old vines are disappearing because, simply, they are not appreciated enough. Communication will be a key to breaking this pattern!

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Randy Caparoso
Randy Caparoso

Randy Caparoso

Randy Caparoso is a full-time wine journalist/photographer living in Lodi, California. In a prior incarnation, he was a multi-award winning restaurateur, starting as a sommelier in Honolulu (1978 through 1988), and then as Founding Partner/VP/Corporate Wine Director of the James Beard Award winning Roy’s family of restaurants (1988-2001), opening 28 locations from Hawaii to New York. While with Roy’s, he was named Santé’s first Wine & Spirits Professional of the Year (1998) and Restaurant Wine’s Wine Marketer of the Year (1992 and 1998). Between 2001 and 2006, he operated his own Caparoso Wines label as a wine producer. For over 20 years, he also bylined a biweekly wine column for his hometown newspaper, The Honolulu Advertiser (1981-2002). He currently puts bread (and wine) on the table as Editor-at-Large and the Bottom Line columnist for The SOMM Journal (founded in 2007 as Sommelier Journal), and freelance blogger and social media director for Lodi Winegrape Commission (lodiwine.com). You may contact him at randycaparoso@earthlink.net

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