By Dave Nershi, CSW
Photos by Adrian Mendoza
Family Roots Run Deep
Old World Winery winemaker Darek Trowbridge is just doing what comes naturally. A great grandson of Giuseppe Martinelli, who started growing grapes in California’s Russian River Valley in the 1800s, wine is in his blood. He follows a different roadmap than many other Sonoma wineries as he crafts natural wines with minimal intervention.
Darek grew up working in the vineyard and idolized his grandfather, who he affectionately calls a peasant farmer. Pursuing the family trade, he earned his degree in viticulture and enology at Fresno State. Something, though, was missing.
“There was a difference between how my grandfather made wine and how they taught me in college,” said Trowbridge. “I don’t want this to be a corporate job. I asked myself, ‘How do I do something different?’” The answer was natural wine.
Darek says he was called to make wine as it was done in the Old World, hence his winery’s name. Old World Winery is a Certified Craft Winery and his title is “pastoral winemaker,” which evokes images of a shepherd leading a flock, or in this case grapes through the winemaking process. “It’s all about inviting nature into what I’m doing,” said Trowbridge. “When people see my title, they know something different is going on.”
Keeping It Natural
The “different” that’s going on is natural winemaking. “Everyone thinks wines are natural,” said Trowbridge, “but people only know what they know.” While grapes and vineyards may earn certification as organic or biodynamic, once into the winery a wide array of manipulations can take place, changing the character of the wine.
“With each step as a winemaker, you can make a decision,” he said. “I want to honor the place instead of me or my winery. I try not to have crafty winemaking ideas.”
Natural wines are those that are farmed organically and made without adding or removing anything in the cellar. In line with this, no additives or processing aids are present with the exception of a minimal amount of protective sulfur in the barrel. The “wild” fermentation process is used utilizing naturally occurring yeast. The wines typically are not fined (a process to clarify the wine) nor filtered.
Using wild fermentation can be an uncertain thing. Commercial yeasts can add known flavors and characteristics. Darek points out that this is a necessity for high volume wineries as they seek to turn over tanks to make the next batch.
“I have a whole different idea,” says Trowbridge. “I am the the farmer. How can I make this taste the way it is supposed to taste. I want to distill it down to its essence.” Although he suffered the loss of a couple of barrels of wine during a difficult time last year, he still considers wild fermentation the way and an amazing thing.
Surprisingly, he doesn’t have a destemmer, crusher or wine press – instead pressing is done by foot. “It was not my master plan,” said Trowbridge. “I had a crew that did this, but the customers were so interested they really wanted to do it. The people develop a comradery. There’s a community aspect. It’s something we’ll continue to do.”
Obscure And Rare Grapes
The first vines planted by Darek were grapes he received from his cousin. He became known for Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. The real prize, however, is the rare grapes you will find almost nowhere else.
The 1890 block features Muscadelle, Tousseau Gris, Palomino (also known as Golden Chasselas), Mondeuse Noir, Abouriou, and Zinfandel. These grapes are used in the Chianti-like Abundance, which retails for $45. The Sherry Martinelli Vineyard features the only four acres of Abouriou (a Basque variety), that exist in the entire New World. Luminous ($45 SRP) is 100% Abouriou.
The “1890 Block” is currently sold out, but is a field blend of three red and three white grapes. Darek describes it as somewhere between a rosé and a red. In a field blend, the different grapes aren’t separated, but grow together and go through winemaking that way. Old World also offers a port-style wine, cider and a couple choices of Syrah.
Nature flows from the field to the bottle at Old World Winery. Sustainable farming practices include the use of native cover crops and dry farming.
The winemaking philosophy of Darek Trowbridge is simple. “It’s inviting nature,” he said. “I want to let the wine be what it should be.” The results are superb – naturally.