by Fred McMillin
for May 23, 1997
Prologue: His father had planted those Zinfandel vines in 1905 and 1927. Now, in 1969, Louis Barbieri was ready to retire. He and wife Lorraine had two sons, but both were dentists, too busy to manage a vineyard in the Russian River Valley.
The scene shifts to Firehouse 49 in western San Francisco. On duty is an anthropologist (honors graduate)-former marine-photographer named Cecil De Loach. He notices an ad with a caveat. One Louis Barbieri wishes to sell his beloved family vineyard, but ONLY if the purchaser agrees to keep it intact and operating. Six years later, the De Loaches (wife Christine is also an anthropologist) bottled their first wine, a Barbieri Ranch red Zinfandel.
The Rest of the Story: Christine and Cecil got along famously with the Barbieris, who even stayed at the vineyard another year to teach Cecil how to give those old vines the proper tender loving care. It was all so pleasant, the De Loaches scraped together enough money to purchase a nearby 28 more acres the next year. Production has risen from 9000 cases a year to over 130,000, so the family keeps on buying land to supply the grapes. Their acreage, all in the prestigious Russian River Valley is over 300 and counting. In fact, they have recently acquired the former Merry Vintner property in a manner reminiscent of their first purchase. They are on a first-name basis with the former owners who are welcome to come by any time to see "how their dream is continuing to grow."
Just the Facts
Postscript: I can recall the Barbieri Ranch Zin winning best red in a major event not so long ago. However, the vines are not immortal. Yields from one part of the original 24 acres are down to a trickle (1/4 ton per acre) and so a small portion is being replanted.
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