Johnson first came across Lodi old-vine Cinsault in 2004 while working with Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon. Together, they picked 130-year-old-plus Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault for the Vin Gris de Cigare rosé.
“I didn’t even know the age of the vines back then,” Johnson says. “It was just these gigantic berries, and it made killer rosé. It had this unique, aromatic rhubarb character I didn’t see in anything else.”
But the age matters.
“They have time under their belt to get that natural balance,” she says. “You don’t have to drop crop as much, they had to survive, their roots had to go deep to access more nutrients, more minerals, water.”
In 2009, Johnson made her first solo wine from Bechthold fruit under the Phoenix Ranch label, buying four tons of grapes to make a rosé and a red wine. She has since started her own label, Onesta Wines.
Her first solo focus? “Cinsault was top of the list, from that vineyard. Now, everybody wants some.”
“I have to sell it for almost $30 a bottle to make it happen,” she continues. “I’m hoping that a good wine from 130-year-old vines is enough for people to spend that much.”
Johnson continues to look for old vineyards, poking around Mendocino to search out Grenache and Mourvèdre plantings.
“I use the vineyard as the biggest selling point with people that are in the know about wine,” she says. “One hundred and thirty years old is really old for any industry—it does resonate.”