Bucklin Wines 

Made from ancient plantings, Bucklin wines are truly old school.

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Having a GPS navigation system in your car probably won’t help you find Bucklin Old Hill Ranch—just ask Will Bucklin, who has rescued many a lost traveler who ignored his directions. To locate it, head toward the Sonoma town of Glen Ellen, Calif., (yes, like the crappy jug wine), meander through the state hospital located just south of town, and follow Will’s directions to a bumpy dirt road. You’ll find a barn—which is Bucklin headquarters— along with a guest cottage and a barking dog named Tanner. No gift shop. No tasting room. No tours.

Well, that ’s not entirely accurate. If you’re lucky, really lucky, Bucklin—proprietor of Bucklin Old Hill Ranch and maker of Bucklin wines—will give you a personalized tour of his vineyard. It’s really more of a stroll than a formal tour, but you’ll learn more about wine in the half hour or so you’ll spend with Bucklin than you might learn touring a dozen other wineries in Napa and Sonoma, as I recently did.

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City Weekly contributor and wine broker Francis Fecteau calls Bucklin “a crank, and a ferociously private sort.” Fecteau is also probably Bucklin’s biggest fan and distributes Bucklin wines here in Utah, which is why I’m writing this column and not him. He’s right about Bucklin; the term “curmudgeon” comes to mind. But, chill out a little, shelve the “I’m so smart” wine geek questions and listen, and he comes to life. He doesn’t have kids; his vines are his children, and he speaks of them with near reverence.

Twenty-four acres. Fifteen grape varieties (at least). Two wines. That’s Bucklin Old Hill Ranch. Bucklin makes “field blend” wines from a vineyard where Grenache grows next to French Columbard that grows next to Grand Noir. A handy vineyard map visually orients one to all of the different varietals. On the fridge in Bucklin’s guest cottage is a hand-drawn “anti-map” of sorts, indicating spots in the vineyard where Tanner’s dog bones are buried, “places where Will has tripped and fell,” abandoned appliances cleverly concealed, and, my favorite, best places to kiss. Oh, by the way, some of the vines in the vineyard are among the oldest planted in North America. They very well may be the oldest. The ranch was established in 1852 and some plantings—as best as can be determined—probably predate the Civil War. Those guys are truly gnarly.

The Bucklin vineyard is dry-farmed (it gets only water from the sky), sustainable and certified organic. The fields are scattered with rosemary, lavender and eucalyptus, and the latter, especially, subtly flavors the fruit. The wines worthy of the Old Hill Ranch name are two: Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Both are outstanding, but Bucklin’s Zin might actually change your life—you know, like the Beatles or the Stones did, or, in Will’s case, Southern rock. He’s an Allman Brothers fan, but can also impressively recite Zappa’s “Mud Shark” lyrics. He recently discovered the pleasure of the iPod, which he turns to when he’s driving his old tractor through the fields. Bucklin spends a lot of time on his tractor.

Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel ($25.99) is cheaper in Utah than in Sonoma. I could blah, blah, blah for pages about the stupendous deliciousness of this superb Zin, but I’d rather you just went out and bought some and tried it yourself. Then, you tell me about it. You’re gonna love it. That, I guarantee. Ditto the Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.99). Out with the new, in with the old.

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Ted Scheffler:

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