Vineyard

Using Grapes from the same vineyard, Billo Nazarene found a way to make two distinct wines that flaunt Walla Walla’s newest sub-AVA’s unique terroir.

Steve and Brooke Robertson, Billo Navarene

In the southwestern corner of Walla Walla’s newest sub-appellation, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, stands the SJR Vineyard. Home primarily to Syrah, but also Grenache and Viognier, the almost 8 planted acre site grows in the signature basalt cobbles and gravel that gave the sub-zone the moniker local vintners prefer, the Rocks.

The Rocks was registered as a recognized AVA in February 2015. Geologist Kevin Pogue articulated the appellation boundaries based almost entirely on its unique soil conditions, a basalt cobbled alluvial fan deposited by the Walla Walla River at the southern part of the valley. The stones of the Rocks District resemble those that made Chateauneuf du Pape famous, but unlike their French counterpart, the tumbled basalt boulders of The Rocks District can be found up to 600 feet deep. While the basalt has eroded to a shallow iron-rich topsoil in portions, the stones dominate the landscape throughout the sub-zone.

To keep reading, head on over to the Wine Business Monthly website where you can view this article in its entirety for free. It begins on page 30 of the November issue and digs into how Steve and Brooke Robertson (shown above left) have worked to fine-tune the farming quality of their SJR Vineyard while also working with winemaker Billo Navarene (shown above right) to dial in the unique style of their Delmas Syrah. At the same time Navarene has also made his own Rasa Syrah from the same site. The result is two utterly distinctive Walla Walla Syrahs that each clearly showcase the characteristics of the vineyard while still being unique from each other. 

This article is one of my favorite things I have written in a long while – the Robertsons and Navarene were incredibly generous with their time and willingness to share tips and techniques on vineyard improvement and every step of the winemaking for both wines. I feel privileged to have been able to share such an insider view to the wine growing and making process. 

Here’s the link to the article: 

http://bit.ly/2fan6lb

Cheers!

Understanding California Nebbiolo in Wine Business Monthly, August 2016

Wine Business Monthly

California Winemakers Trying to Make Sense of the Variety in Differing Conditions

In California, a small cadre of producers have been striving to understand the particular needs of Nebbiolo in their home state. Among them are Jim Clendenen of Clendenen Family Vineyards and Palmina owner/ winemaker Steve Clifton, who have worked with the variety the longest.

Nebbiolo’s potential quality is celebrated in the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Along with aging requirements in cellar, the cultivar’s response to very particular soil types and climate conditions legally define quality desig- nations for Nebbiolo in Italy, differentiating from the highest designations like Barolo or Barbaresco, to the broader regional designation of Langhe. Vine age also proves relevant. The variety’s combination of high tannin and elevated acidity tends to be unruly in young vines, showing finer balance as the vineyard ages.

“The most important thing I ever did was learn from the guys in Piedmont,” Jim Clendenen said. He’s referring to his time spent in Piedmont to hone his Clendenen Family Vineyards Nebbiolo, which is based in Santa Barbara County. “You don’t have to copy them when you learn from them,” he said. Copying Italian techniques to Nebbiolo has its natural limits with the differing conditions found in California.

While Clendenen made his first Nebbiolo in 1986, planting his own site in 1994 to better control the farming, Clifton began making Nebbiolo in 1997, farming multiple sites in Santa Barbara County for the cultivar. Palmina focuses entirely on Italian varieties, and, like Clendenen, Clifton has spent time learning techniques directly from producers in Piedmont. He also emphasizes that the techniques he relies upon for Nebbiolo differ from those suited to any other variety with which he’s worked, including other Italian cultivars.

California Nebbiolo in the Vineyard

Though the variety arrived in California in the late 1800s, today 162 acres of Nebbiolo are established, according to the latest Grape Acreage Report compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Vineyards growing the grape are dotted throughout California but few existing today were planted before the 1990s.

To continue reading this article check out the August 2016 issue of Wine Business Monthly. The article is available beginning on page 32 of the print edition. Or, if you’re interested in reading the magazine electronically you can find it as a downloadable PDF or in a scrollable format.

You can check out the online edition here: http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getDigitalIssue&issueId=8599

Cheers!

Michael Mara Chardonnay

The Michael Mara Vineyard Tasting

from left: Jill and Steve Klein Matthiasson, Richard and Susan Idell, Birk O’Halloran, Abe Schoener, Chris Brockaway in the Michael Mara Vineyard, Sonoma, April 2016

Last week Richard and Susan Idell hosted a producer tasting at their vineyard along with Steve Matthiasson, who farms the site. The Idell’s Michael Mara Vineyard hosts six acres of Chardonnay, clone 4 grafted to de-vigorating rootstock in an already de-vigorating site. The rocky soils, with their high drainage, not only keep vines from over-producing but minimize growth to such a degree as to create intense concentration in the fruit. Wines from the site consistently offer a glimpse of that stony character.

Planting the Michael Mara in 2006, Matthiasson helped design the vineyard, and continues to farm it, adjusting rootstock and techniques over time as characteristics reveal themselves through the vines. Within a vintage or two of first fruit, Matthiasson believed it to be a special site offering the kind of density through the palate and mineral expression, in his view, usually characteristic of older vine sites.

The concentrating power of the site can be glimpsed through surrounding foliage.

Michael Mara stands in the midst of a mini-plateau elevated by four feet when compared to surrounding properties. Throughout the earthen-swell trees reach almost half-size compared to those growing on lower grounds. Matthiasson believes the minimizing effect on plants comes from the low water retention of the soils, coupled with their mix of closely-packed rocks and volcanic earth.

Vines too grow smaller through Michael Mara, with not only less size increase year-to-year, but also less canopy compared to other vineyards. The combination of reduced growth and lessened natural shade again lead to concentration of the fruit. At the same time the juice-to-skin ratio is changed. Smaller clusters and smaller berries mean more skin to less pulp in the fruit. With the heightened phenolics from the skins, even wines put straight to press from the site carry a stimulating sapidity that washes the mouth with mineral freshness.

Flavors of the Vines

Growing up in Alaska, friends and I would sometimes spend an entire day just running through the mountains. A parent would drop us off an hour or so down the road on the Seward Peninsula at the entrance to a high elevation valley, then we would take the next several hours to simply run North through the belly of the Chugach mountains. Eventually we’d arrive near the edge of Anchorage, where another parent would pick us up. Along the way, if we grew thirsty, we learned to throw a rock in our mouths. The pebble would stimulate our palate making it water as we ran through the still snow-soaked summer range. The experience always tasted just a touch earthy, not quite salty but almost, with the flavor of fog lifting from the wet upland valley. In portions the resin scent of pine or evergreen blended in with the fog.

The stoniness of Michael Mara wines across producers and vintages reminds me of those runs through the mountains with a rock in my mouth – a mouthwatering wash of stones through the midpalate with a bit of earth and a flavor that’s almost salty but not – coupled with a bit of fog, a profound density of fruit, the flavor of which varies by picking time and cellar technique, and hints of forest resin.

The Idell family’s Michael Mara serves as source fruit for a range of producers making wine across a diversity of styles. Still that fruit density and stony wash remain consistent.

Following are tasting notes on the wines tasted at the event last week presented in the order tasted.

* Broc Cellars 2011 Michael Mara Chardonnay 12% $42

With delicate aromatics and a stimulating texture, the broc 2014 showcases a midpalate burst of fresh, clean fruit washed through with a mineral stimulating rush of acidity, and a savory finish. Refreshing, a hint funky, delicious.

* Matthiasson 2013 Michael Mara Chardonnay 12.9% $55

Offering a fresh fruit lift of pear and clementine touched by hints of honey and amber, the Matthiasson 2013 spins simultaneously with fresh and rich accents. Pleasing acidity carries almost lacy flavors married to a sense of lushness. Nice length and complexity. Delicious.

YoungInglewood 2013 Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.7% $60

Floral spiced aromatics followed by a palate of spiced wax, pear, and citrus rind with hints of savory forest-resin, the mid palate weight of the Younginglewood 2013 carries through a long finish. I would prefer a little less oak spice and a little less ripeness here but the wine offers a coherent expression of its style.

Idell Family Vineyard 2013 Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.2% $35

Tight aromatics and a subtle flavor profile with accents of oak spice throughout, the Idell Family Vineyards 2013 is not overly expressive currently but carries the promise of more. Showing light notes of pear and orange rind with a savory finish and persistent acidity, this wine would be worth checking-in on again in a year or two.

* Scholium Project 2014 Michael Faraday Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.49% $80

Savory aromatics and palate with a distinctive, animalistic energy brought into focus, the Michael Faraday from 2014 carries lacy flavors with a savory strength. With an almost implacable core, this wine will age through the apocalypse. It might be the only wine left standing after the Resurrection. (Does that make it heathen wine? If it is, I don’t want to be right.)

Scholium Project 2015 barrel sample Michael Faraday Michael Mara Chardonnay

Still in the fresh-wine phase, the 2015 Michael Faraday shows flavors still in evolution but carries nice energy and persistence worth investigating again later in bottle.

Iconic 2014 Heroine Michael Mara Chardonnay 12.8% $TBD

Subtle and savory aromatics with a fleshier mid palate and a softer finish (that is not to call it either soft or unfocused) than the other vineyard examples, the 2014 Heroine appears to have a little more influence of malolactic fermentation than some of the other wines poured. Carrying a subtle palate of flavor with still good density and a punch of zestiness spun through the finish. Hints of verve, pith, and savor.

Kesner 2013 Rockbreak Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.72% $55

My favorite of the three Kesner vintages poured, the 2013 feels the most cohesive with potential to age. Showing notes of wax-nut burnished by spice the flavors here are rich though nuanced with density and length carrying into a long savory finish. Allow plenty of air upon opening.

Kesner 2012 Rockbreak Michael Mara Chardonnay 14.3% $55

With subtle aromatics and palate, the 2012 is currently showing less complexity than the 2013 or 2011, as well as a softer finish.

Kesner 2011 Rockbreak Michael Mara Chardonnay 14.2% $55

While the 2011 feels more disjointed than the other vintages – simultaneously offering fresh fruit notes with a bit of ripe heat through the close – it also carries a burst of fresh flavor at the front of the palate that is pleasing, before falling into a softer finish.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

California 2015 – early, small and distinctive

Sonoma Mountain CabernetAs I travelled across California this summer and autumn a few things proved consistent. Most vineyards – whether hillside or valley floor, North Coast, southern portions of the state or further inland – exhibited reduced yields via either smaller clusters, berry shatter or millerandage, and harvest came early. A warm winter followed by a chilly spring meant fruit set suffered. Reduced fruit set (this picture shows Cabernet clusters on Sonoma Mountain) and smaller berry size led to significantly smaller yields than usual, as well as greater concentration of colour, acidity, tannin and flavour. Weather conditions across the state, as well as California’s fourth successive drought year, created these common themes for America’s largest wine-producing state.

However, wine quality in a year such as 2015 will be highly dependent on the health of the vineyard. In regions with higher portions of shatter and shot berries, producer’s propensity to sort to avoid sharp acidity and bitter flavours will also be an important factor. When it comes to the release of California’s 2015 wines, we can expect to see a significant drop in single-vineyard bottlings, and in the boutique rosés from California that have been so popular these last three years. While we should expect much smaller volume in fine-wine sales specifically for the 2015 vintage, there will be little impact on the number of bottles of California wine available overall since before 2015 California experienced three good-quality, high-volume years in a row. As a result, many producers are still loaded with stock from 2012, 2013 and 2014. While fine-wine enthusiasts will have to work harder to secure their favourite producer’s cuvées from 2015, most consumers are unlikely to notice a drop in availability for wines from the state in general.

The role of drought in the quality of 2015 wines

As the drought continues, farming decisions have become progressively more important to wine quality, even in vineyards reliant on irrigation. The 2015 growing season was marked by temperature variability throughout. That combined with the drought meant that continual attention to the vineyard proved especially important. Along with increased vineyard attention has come a need for farming decisions made increasingly vine-by-vine. Brook Williams owns and farms Duvarita Vineyard just west of the Sta Rita Hills and Santa Ynez Valley appellations in Santa Barbara County. As Williams explains, ‘We were more aggressive with pruning in February since it had already been a very dry winter. …

Curious about California’s 2015 harvest? To continue reading news + insights from producers throughout the state in this article, you’ll need to sign into JancisRobinson.com. 

http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/california-2015-early-small-and-distinctive

Subscription is £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

1

Chateau de Fontenille, Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux

Stephane Defraine, Chateau de Fontenille

Stéphane Defraine owner-winemaker of Château de Fontenille

Since 1989, Stéphane Defraine has led the Château de Fontenille in Bordeaux’s Entre Deux Mers. Prior to turning his attention to Château de Fontenille, Defraine established and farmed vineyards for other Chateaus in the region. His viticultural knowledge of the area is significant.

The Château de Fontenille grows 52 hectares with 50 currently in production, the majority planted to red varieties – 35 hectares red, 15 white. Like much of the region, 90% of the wine produced is exported, in this case, primarily to the United States and Japan. His rosé of Cabernet Franc in particular is a stand out.

The Entre Deux Mers region of Bordeaux has a celebrated history for white wine. With an increased focus on red wines since the 1960s, however, whites of the region have mostly been regarded as good oyster wines meant to be enjoyed fresh and racy in their youth. Many current examples are perfect for that, but the history of the region was established in a greater range of styles.

The moderate temperatures and unique soils of the area support white wines with incredible aging potential. (We enjoyed a 1988 Bordeaux Blanc from the Entre Deux Mers on our trip, for example, that was still in beautiful shape with mouthwashing acidity.) At the center of the difference rests not only vinification choices but also clonal selection. As the attention for entry-level Bordeaux shifted to bulk wine production, interest in high production clonal types also increased. While Defraine grows a greater portion of red varieties currently, he has kept a steady focus on the farming quality of his whites and has helped to reestablish quality clones for white varieties.

In late September, Adam Lechmere, Richard Hemming, Emma Roberts and I visited Defraine to taste his wines and learn more of his perspective on the region.

Following is some of what Defraine had to share with us beginning with his thoughts on the 2015 vintage and his approach to viticulture. He discusses his views of sustainable farming and the role of economic sustainability. Eventually he speaks about the changes in winemaking style in Bordeaux and his work with clonal selection as well.

Stéphane Defraine of Château de Fontenille

Stephane Defraine

“We don’t need to make a lot of intervention on the grapes because it is very good [weather this year]. It is a bit like 2000, ’89 too.

“What is very strange this year is July, it was very hot. We were not in hydric stress [in the vines] but I think 10 more days of hot weather [and it would have been a problem]… but we had a bit of rain in August. The plants restart then. June, it was not hot but it was very dry.

We are standing with him in the vineyard. He points to the grass he has under the vines as an example.

“When you have grass under vines you have competition and make hydric stress. When you have no grass you have no competition and no stress. All that means is that a year like this year, all of Bordeaux will be good. In a humid year though, the best terroir has good wine but when you try to affect the hydric stress of that vine [because of too much water] some places have to try harder. … Human intervention plays a role.”

We ask about how long he has been in the area. 

“In fact, I am Belgian. I arrived in this area 40 years ago. Chateau Bauduc, I planted all the vineyards.”

We had visited Chateau Bauduc the evening before and walked the vineyards established by Defraine.

Determining Vineyard Density

We ask him about how he decided to establish the vine spacing he has here at Château de Fontenille, which is closely spaced.

“Here, the Sauvignon Blanc, we have 5000 vines per hectare. Each vine produces around 1 liter. It is better in terms of concentration. It is better to have that type of vines [planting density]. When you have less vines [per hectare] you have less concentration.”

We ask him about his canopy management, which appears well balanced for the vine spacing. 

“We calculate the coefficient between the leaves and the distance [between vines] and it is 0.7. You want 0.7 [coefficient]. So, we have 2 meters distance here, and you calculate with 0.7. So, you must have 1.4 meters of leaves.” Defraine has 2 meters between vines and 1.4 meter canopy height. “It means if you have 3 meters distance you must have 2 meters leaves and you cannot [so we must plant closer. The vine will not support a higher canopy.]” Defraine’s calculations are based partially in the soil drainage of his site. 

We ask about his vineyard maintenance practices and how they appear by site and by vintage. 

“We don’t have a systematic way of work. It depends on the vineyard but we plant the grass or we work the soil or we plant the seeds.”

Sustainable versus Organic Viticulture

We ask him if he farms organically, or biodynamically, and what his views of selecting such farming practices are. His response is interesting. It could at first sound as though he is against sustainable farming practices but by the end it is clear that is not what Defraine means. 

“It is not because [your farming approach] is organic that it is good. Today there is a big confusion between ecology and health. [People think if it is organic it is good as if organic equals health. That is too simple.] It is not because it is organic that it is good. [Good farming depends on more than that.] If your body is sick, and you go to the doctor. If you have an infection, you take antibiotics. [If you don’t you get more sick.] That is part of health.

“But [here in our farming] we are responsible. You make every decision to be ecologically correct. We are members of SME [a sustainable farming program in Bordeaux]. It is a unique way for producers to make decisions to do things for the environment.

“I have a lot of respect for people that make biodynamic farming decisions. It is very hard. One of the problems is the economics too. The price of a wine from Bordeaux in a supermarket in France is 1.5 € to 3 € and at that price you cannot make ecological growing because it is difficult. You have to have the economic first for it to be sustainable. A few people use [certified] organic or biodynamic around here but very few. It is very difficult. If you do biodynamic or organic wine you have to do 1.5 less yield and at that price it is very difficult to do it that way [with less yield]. [In terms of the environment] I prefer that all the producers of Bordeaux use less product that that a few producers use almost no product.

“We do not use fertilizer in the vineyard. [Healthy farming] is a vision.

“People think when you use organic product you use less product. It is not true. When you use organic you use more. Last year, I used 8 treatments but my neighbor, he is organic, and he used 17 treatments because he is obliged [to be certified].”

Typicity and Winemaking in the Entre Deux Mers

We ask him about what makes the zone of the Entre Deux Mers in which he farms unique in terms of the wine. 

“In this part of the Entre Deux Mers we have a soil with a lot of gravel and sand. We have a soil that naturally gives a lot of aromatics. We try to keep that identity.

“When I started in Bordeaux, we were picking wine at 11.5 potential alcohol and it had acidity. Everyone had the habit of more acidity and it worked because the food at that time too, it had less sugar. And people kept the wine. But it is different today because the wine, it is made to drink right now. We do not in Bordeaux make the wine at all anymore like we used to. The problem in a year like this is the risk to wait too much before you pick in white and in red.

“[Picking decisions] are just like when you eat an apple. If you eat the apple when it is fresh, you can taste the fruit. If you pick too early, the fruit all tastes the same. If you wait too long you lose the typicity.

“Generality is the worst thing in wine. We must have our own regard for our own situation in where we are [versus making wine according to a formula or based on advice like that of a consultant from outside the region meant to apply to wine generally rather than specifically to that region and vineyard].”

Direct Engagement with the Consumer and Winemaking Choices

“More and more people are in direct contact with the consumer. In the old Bordeaux system you had the producer and the negotiant. And the producer had no idea what the consumer wanted [because the producer had no contact with the consumer]. It was very difficult for the producer to adapt his vinification to the market.

“Today, when you go to Belgium or Japan with your wine and people say, ah, I don’t want that. you are obliged to change your wine [if you want to be able to sell it]. You cannot stay in an arrogant position, this is what I make you have to take it. You have to listen. Though not too much. [You must maintain the typicity of your site.] If you make all your choices through vinification you will lose the specificity of your terroir. [You must let your vineyard decisions show through not just intervene in the cellar.]

Looking at Clonal Selection in White Varieties

We taste through a range of white wine tank samples from the 2015 vintage. They offer a sense of distinctiveness and energy with clear varietal contrast between Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and blends of the varieties.

“We keep the wine on lees to protect the wines. We will use sulfites later but [for now] we keep it on the lees instead. In a year like this year, you do not need any sulfites in the beginning. [Defraine was able to pick before any rains so there was no rot or disease coming in on the fruit.]

“I like wine with a sense of tension.

We taste the Muscadelle last of all. It is distinctive – earthy, with a mix of treble and bass tones and vibrant acidity. It seems distinctive compared to some of the Muscadelle we’ve tasted elsewhere. 

“What I want to do is arrive at 30% of Muscadelle in my blend. We replant Muscadelle. What was very difficult was to arrive at a good selection of Muscadelle from the plants. But we never talk about that in Bordeaux. White was very disregarded in Bordeaux for a long time with the focus put on reds. [For a while whites were only for high production wines and so clones were selected for high production not for quality.] The only clone you can find of Muscadelle is a high producer. So, 15 years ago we decided to go to all the producers to ask if they had old plants of Muscadelle from before the selection [for high production] of the 1960s and now we have new clones of Muscadelle that are higher acidity and lower production. We grow those here.”

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

0

Following the Growth of the Vine

Looking into Barlow Homestead Pinot

The early stages of shoot positioning – Barlow Homestead Pinot, May 2015

Earlier this year, Jr and I visited with Paul and Kathryn Sloan of Small Vines to track green pruning and bud break at their Barlow Homestead Vineyard in the heart of Green Valley. Jr created a video interview of Paul on the two viticultural events, which you can view here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/06/a-year-with-small-vines-bud-break-green-pruning/

In May, and earlier this month I returned to track two different phases of shoot positioning with Paul. In a cane pruned vineyard relying on vertical shoot positioning, repeated passes for shoot positioning serve as an essential step to the health and balance of the vines offering ample air flow and canopy management for the developing clusters.

The following shares an overview of the process and a look at the importance of shoot positioning in the midst of a year’s vineyard management.

Shoot Positioning

Getting ready to shoot position with Bryce Potter + Paul Sloangetting ready to shoot position: (from left) Bryce Potter, me, Paul Sloan, May 2015

In a cane pruned, VSP trained site, shoot positioning serves as the next step after green pruning. While green pruning forms the basic architecture of the vine, shoot positioning manicures and directs the growth of the vine. Shoot positioning, then, occurs in multiple steps through vine growth.

The timing of shoot positioning depends on the growth of the vineyard in the particular vintage. 2015 brought a challenging spring for vineyards in Sonoma. With warm January and February weather, growth came early to the vines bringing early bud break and shoot growth. April and May then cooled off significantly, generating what is known as Spring Fever in many Pinot vineyards through the region.

Spring Fever + Frost Damage

Spring Fever is caused by the vine starting to grow from warm weather conditions, and then shutting down again when temperatures drop. Nitrogen gets locked into place in the vine, which in severe cases can lead to nitrogen necrosis in the leaves. In milder cases, as new leaves develop the vine recovers photosynthesizing through the upper leaves. Even so, with Spring Fever, vine growth is slowed – colder temperatures slow vine development, and in the case of nitrogen necrosis the vines ability to photosynthesize is impacted through leaf loss.

Frost damage can also show in damage to vine tips. When temperatures are cold enough, frost effectively singes vine tips, turning them brown and stopping shoot growth. In such cases, secondary shoots will sometimes push from the trunk of the vine becoming the focus for vine development that year.

Shoot Positioning 

Paul Sloan shoot positioning Barlow Homestead Pinot

Paul Sloan shoot positioning Barlow Homestead Pinot, May 2015

In vertical shoot positioning, shoot growth is managed through a series of steps moving wires into ever higher positions as the shoots get taller, or through tucking shoots between wires. Wires are placed on the trellis system in pairs that effectively create a sandwich around shoots as they grow, with one wire at the front and one at the back of the training system and shoots growing between.

Generally, moving wires is more desirable than tucking shoots as it is faster. In moving wires, however, it is important to be careful to avoid pulling leaves or breaking shoots. As vines grow, their tips and leaves will sometimes wrap wires, or other shoots. This must be managed when moving wires to avoid damaging vines. Tucking vines, on the other hand, is generally done for specific vines rather than entire rows and includes the risk of damaging shoots through breakage.

Wires are placed at the right height to support shoots maintaining a vertical position. Then shoots are spaced at approximately a hand’s width apart with clips used to hold the shoots in the best position between wires. The clips can be moved as needed to adjust to vine growth.

Clips for shoot positioning

clips used for shoot positioning. The C-shaped clips are biodegradable natural fiber and are used for when wires need to be held close together to maintain the shoot to secure the its position. 

Shoot positioning clip

The reusable black clips offer more flexibility and can be used to loop a shoot exactly in place, to offer wider spacing between wires, or to wrap a wire for even closer spacing. 

As vine growth continues, shoot positioning is revisited again and again to keep shoots about a hand’s width apart (in order to keep clusters about a hand’s width apart), and to manage any secondary shoot growth. Rows are approached individually. Wires can be positioned as is appropriate to vine growth in that particular row, or even partial row. Then, vines are clipped individually.

Ideal shoot position depends on the architecture of the particular vine, however goals remain consistent in each case. The goals of shoot positioning include a balance of air flow and leaf shade for clusters. The balance of cluster count per vine is generally established in the earlier step of green pruning as the number of buds allowed to grow determines cluster potential. How that balance is achieved depends upon goals of the farmer such as overall yield, and goals of the winemaker such as wine style.

When it comes to recognizing ideal shoot positioning in the vineyard, Sloan emphasizes the importance of knowing your vineyard. “There is no one right formula, one right thing to do. You have to read your vines, your vineyard. The more you pay attention, the better decisions you can make.” Sloan explains.

The frequency with which Sloan revisits shoot positioning in his Small Vines-managed sites allows him to rely on organic viticulture as well. The attention given to architectural points such as ample airflow and canopy management also serves his ability to keep track of overall vine health, and issues such as disease or insect pressure.

Vine Health and Flavor Development

Organic cover crop

Paul Sloan discussing cover crop choices in Barlow Homestead, May 2015.
Cover crop through Spring is valuable in organic viticulture as it supports soil health and also offers a habitat for beneficial insects. Vines are most susceptible to harmful insects in Spring, so planting cover crops between rows plays an important role in vineyard health through the balancing of insect populations.

Effective canopy management supports the overall health of the vine reducing disease pressure while also encouraging flavor development.

“What is important about shoot positioning for the organic farmer,” Sloan explains, “is to have air flow through the leaves and clusters.” How such air flow is achieved depends on the overall architecture of the vine.

In vines that include higher cluster count, air flow must be encouraged through leaf removal — too much of both fruit and vegetation doesn’t allow enough air flow — which also has the effect of increasing sun exposure to clusters. On the other hand, to preserve canopy for shade while maintaining air flow, the vine must be shaped in such a way as to reduce cluster count and manage leaf position.

In the case of Small Vines, Sloan chooses to reduce cluster count per vine and focus on high density planting. High density planting reduces the soil nutrients and water supply available to any particular vine, slowing growth, reducing cluster count and leading to a sense of density in the fruit profile.

The Role of Sunlight on Fruit Development

Barlow Homestead Pinot clusters

Pinot in Barlow Homestead, early June 2015 (getting ready to do another pass of shoot positioning but note the architecture of the vine places shoots and clusters about a hands width apart)

Sloan clarifies that air flow is not the only factor relevant to shoot positioning. “Even more important than air flow is sunlight. You want sunlight on every leaf, on every shoot” but not on every cluster. Sunlight on the leaves encourages photosynthesis, and therefore also vine growth and fruit development. Direct sunlight to clusters, however, changes the flavor profile of the fruit as well as the fruit structure. To put that another way, directing sunlight to leaves and away from clusters tends to keep flavors in the fruit fresher and brighter. (To read more on the role of sunlight in flavor development, see the following profile on Andy Smith of DuMOL: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/13/deepening-dumol-a-day-in-the-vines-with-andy-smith/)

Early sunlight on clusters often encourages thicker skin development (and therefore also more tannin profile), later sunlight on clusters changes the flavor profile of the fruit. Generally you can think of this sort of sun exposure as making flavors darker, moving flavors from fresh fruits to cooked fruit and kitchen flavors (such as caramel in the case of Chardonnay, for example). With reduced sunlight exposure on clusters, canopy management to promote air flow and reduce disease pressure becomes even more important. In this way, shoot positioning plays a role in both farming methods and wine style.

Vine Health and Wine Quality

Vine health also ultimately impacts wine quality. As Sloan explains, “The reason I am so emphatic about making wine from the vines I grow is because if I can keep walking vineyards, and I can move my crew where they’re needed, then I can affect wine quality directly.”

Sourcing fruit from multiple vineyards can be an excellent way for winemakers to get to know and express the signature of a region. Once a region is known, understanding the attention of a particular farmer is the next step to managing wine quality by finding an alignment between farming style and winemaking goals. In the case of Small Vines, Sloan develops and manages vineyard sites for others and makes his Small Vines wines from his own sites.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Andy Smith in the Vineyards of West Sonoma Coast and Green Valley

Andy Smith in Jentoft VineyardAndy Smith walking through Jentoft Vineyard, West Sonoma Coast, Jan 2015

“It’s okay to blend,” Andy Smith, winemaker and partner of DuMOL Wines tells me. It is morning and we are walking through the rolling hills of Jentoft Vineyard, a site near Occidental DuMOL planted specifically for blending.

Smith has agreed to spend the day driving me through DuMOL vineyards. We’re discussing the region but also his evolution as a winemaker.

Jentoft is unique for DuMOL in that it is one of only a few sites they farm in the rolling hills off Occidental Road.

Beginning in the mid 1990s, DuMOL made a name for itself making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of the Russian River Valley. More recently, the team has expanded further into sites hugged by the hills mere miles from the Ocean.

The addition of these cooler climate vineyards also reflects the winery’s shift towards a leaner style over the last decade.

But for Smith, the winery’s move into sites near Occidental is not just about climate.

“People talk about climate, but, for me, the soil makes the flavor. Soil is the building blocks of the flavor, and the climate is the vintage variation.” Together, Occidental vineyards have something unique to offer.

“To me the wine [in this area] always has a sense of air-oir, not just terroir, a conifer-spicy element.” Smith says.

Blending DuMOL 

Andy Smith in Wild Rose Vineyard

Andy Smith in Wild Rose Vineyard, Green Valley, Jan 2015

I ask Smith if he’d ever make a single vineyard bottling from Jentoft.

“I think the single vineyard thing,” he says, pausing briefly, in the midst of answering, no. “There has to be something distinctive, and agreeable, and verifiable, and repeatable. I am sure this site can make a distinctive wine that is a distinctive part of a distinctive blend.”

DuMOL bottles a number of single vineyard sites, but has developed and farms even more. The goal for DuMOL is to bottle excellent wines rooted first in their own farming. Some sites, in Smith’s view, offer that beautiful component within a multi-site blend, while other sites carry their own sense of completeness.

The point is that high quality vineyards sometimes best serve as components in a blend rather than on their own.

Developing a site’s character, be it is for blending, or single bottling, takes time. Jentoft, for example, was planted in 2007.

“This site is just starting to come into its own for us.” Smith explains. “The first year a vine gives fruit can be quite nicely structured and well balanced. Then, the next few years the vines are like unruly teenagers. Around eight years a vineyard starts to find its balance. Then around fourteen years there is another plateau, and vines become much more self regulating.”

What that means today has changed from viticultural views of even ten years ago.

“That is the fun part of the change in the last ten years,” Smith says. “From the idea that we need to tell the vine what to do. Today farming includes beautiful cover crops, insectiary rows, and then seeing the results. For me, that is the exciting part. You can taste the results as well. The wines taste better at lower alcohol.”

Evolving the DuMOL Style

I ask Smith about his evolution as a winemaker. We are discussing Smith and his contemporaries from the early days of DuMOL.

“We were young guys in the late 1990s,” Smith says. “Starting out making rich wines. Now many of us are making lighter wines, with aromatic perfume. You know everything is different.”

But the change in style, Smith points out, occurred as part of a larger context, not driven by wine alone but the overall food culture.

“In the late 1990s, the scene was booming. Restaurants were booming. Chefs were going on with pork fat, and the wines reflected that.” Big flavor was not just a Parker fancy, but a cultural fascination.

“Some of my wines, I go back, and taste, and wonder, what was I thinking?” Smith laughs. “But, you know, it was the taste of the day. Now we have less new oak, and less toast. We have really moved to a more ethereal style with more perfumed aromatics. If you want more honey in your chardonnay, or more cassis and black fruit in your pinot noir, you pull leaves and expose clusters. Now we avoid sun exposure on the fruit.”

Smith’s reflection on sun exposure gets to the core of how DuMOL has shifted its style from bold flavor to graceful richness – DuMOL’s wines today a dance of movement and flavor.

“We’ve pulled back the wines as the farming has improved too.” Smith points out. “You can’t just go on and say, I am going to pick at 21 brix. You have to take a few years getting in tune with the farming, the soil health, and all that.”

DuMOL Today

Andy Smith in Heintz Vineyard

Andy Smith in Heintz Vineyard, Green Valley, Jan 2015

DuMOL’s focus on farming has helped the label grow at a judicious rate, focusing on quality as it allows for growth. It’s maintained such an approach by expanding its volume only as its farming allows. As a result, quality remains in the hands of the DuMOL team, relying on fruit they’ve cultivated to match the house style.

“That’s part of our philosophy.” Smith explains. “I don’t like any extremes – no extreme pruning, no extreme exposure to the grapes, not too much, if any irrigation. Vines are a crop we maximize, and you maximize that by making the vine work hard, not stressed but hard.” I ask Smith to say more about how he maintains that middle line in the vineyard, avoiding extremes.

“The soil health is, of course, really important.” He responds. “Water is available for the vine. The roots are really deep now but because they haven’t been force fed water, they don’t binge on it. Vines are self regulating. They take what they need, and don’t take too much. When you over irrigate, you force the vine to take what you give it, and it takes and takes and takes, then collapses and ripens through dehydration.”

Then there is the architecture of the vine.

“The way we farm with tight spacing, we are looking for grapes that are bright and fresh, with thick skins though we are achieving that without exposing the clusters to sun. It gives more herbal complexity, dense deep tones, and bright fruit.”

The result shows through beautiful integrity from bottling to bottling.

DuMOL wines offer concentrated flavor and structural density with bright fruit, and delicious acidity across varieties thanks to the farming, while cellar choices preserve the wines’ pleasing texture and freshness. The combination Smith describes as his winemaking goal.

“I like texture, but I also like freshness. Any texture or density,” Smith clarifies, “should come from the vines.”

***

DuMOL makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and a small amount of Viognier from Sonoma County.

DuMOL Wines: http://www.dumol.com

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Jr Films Paul Sloan of Small Vines

Jr films bud break with Paul Sloan of Small Vines

Jr films bud break with Paul Sloan of Small Vines

In Sonoma County, Paul and Kathryn Sloan have been practicing high density viticulture since the late 1990s. Thus, the name of their company, Small Vines.

Devoted to honing their ability to grow healthy, well balanced vineyards, they have studied the viticultural practices of some of the best vineyards in the world, and worked to translate those practices to the unique conditions of Sonoma.

In 2005, they launched their own label (also named Small Vines) selling Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay primarily from the Green Valley subzone of the Russian River Valley.

Walking a Small Vines vineyard with the pair has repeatedly proven to be one of the most fascinating, educative experiences I’ve had in my visits with producers.

I asked if they’d be willing to let me follow them through a full year in the vineyard and winery covering each major stage of a vintage. They agreed.

For the first stage, I asked Jr to accompany me to create her own interpretation of the visit. First filming Paul and I through the vineyard, she then interviewed him on her own to edit and produce the video below. (I’m pretty psyched with the work she did.)

Bud Break and Green Pruning

With an early vintage in 2015, bud break is well under way throughout Sonoma County. As a result, vignerons are starting to look to the next step, shoot thinning, also known as green pruning or suckering.

The process of shoot thinning proves to be one of the most crucial steps of the vintage. When done well, it establishes balanced vine growth, determining how many clusters the vine can support for the year, and setting up the vine’s production for the following vintage as well.

I’ll let Paul, via Jr’s video, explain the rest.

Here’s the direct link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pniINtYL9Qg

Please feel free to share the video with interested friends and family. Jr would also be thrilled to read your comments on it below.

For more on Small Vines: https://smallvines.com

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

1

Meeting Prudy Foxx, Santa Cruz Mountains

In July 2013, The Sommelier Journal invited me to accompany their sommelier Terroir Experience through the Santa Cruz Mountains. There Prudy Foxx of Foxx Viticulture, the premier viticultural consultant for the region, hosted us for a tasting, and discussion of some of the unique winegrowing elements of the Mountains.

This weekend, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers’ Association hosted their annual Grand Pro tasting. Fifteen of us were asked to come together to taste and rate 120 total wines (each of us tasted 60, with the wines being distributed through 3 groups) of the region.

To open the tasting, Prudy Foxx guided us through a survey of the varied character of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Following is a portion of what Fox had to share with us. Her discussion focused on three key factors of terroir–climate, soil, and socioeconomic elements.

Prudy Foxx Talks Terroir of the Santa Cruz Mountains

Prudy FoxxPrudy Foxx, July 2013

“When it comes to the idea of terroir, some people mention climate conditions, and soil, and stop there, but I have found over the years there are a lot of human elements that factor in.

“I do believe wine comes from the vineyards. That’s why I spend all my time out there. I took it too seriously.

“Capital investments in the vineyard, how care and maintenance is done, all factor in.

“You have to have healthy soils. There needs to be life in the soil, so the vines can take up minerals, or micronutrients from the soil. Some people call it minerality, but it’s that the vines need to be in live soil to take up micronutrients to grow.

“I am all about vineyard aspects [the angle and direction in relation to the sun of the vineyard slope]. There are so many different aspects in the vineyards here. The San Andreas Fault runs through the AVA. If you look over the appellation, it’s like folds in fabric, all these different folds of land, cliffs, and aspects in all different directions.

“If you look at either side of the fault… you can actually go down to Watsonville, and look at the fault itself. You can see the Pacific plate rubbing up against the North American plate. The fault, and that activity has a big impact on the soils here.

“At the top of the Mountains, you get more rock. Then, as you come down towards the bottom [of the Mountains] there are colluvial soils that have eroded from the top, and mix over alluvial soils near the rivers. So, you get a lot of different soils depending on where the vineyard is, and all those soil differences affect the flavor [of the wine].

“The Santa Cruz Mountains are a series of ridges. On the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains you have close proximity to the ocean, and maritime influence. But then at the top [even close to the ocean] at 3000 ft there is less coastal influence. The fog comes in but below you so you can get a lot more radiant heat. In some of those areas people are trying some Italian stuff because it is just so hot [in comparison to lower elevation within the fog zone].

“Then on the Saratoga Hills side of the Mountains it is generally warmer, and is good for consistent ripening of Cabernet. But, again, it really depends on where you are located, and what direction you are facing. The temperature and conditions will be really different depending on the aspect of your vineyard slope. [Even in the Saratoga Hills side of the Santa Cruz Mountains,] it could be cool enough to grow Pinot Noir.

“The Santa Cruz Mountains is all about hills, and valleys, and slopes, and how the slope really captures light and heat. The direction of the slope influence what light the vineyard receives, and the heat it has to absorb. Different soil types absorb heat at different rates, so influence what the vines receive.

“Grapes can grow almost anywhere, in almost any conditions. That’s why it’s one of the oldest forms of agriculture. But one of the things grapes hate is wet feet. It’s one of the worst things you can do to a vine, wet feet. We don’t have that problem here [thanks to the elevation and slopes].

“There is a big diversity of soils. Some of the higher areas have a mudstone. As they dry out the soil hardens, and turns into rock. At that point it begins to act like clay [just in the sense that] as it dries out it is very hard to re-wet. That is part of why these years after years of drought are hard on vineyards. Areas with those sorts of soils, it is very hard for that soil to get re-wet.

“But then we have areas with red soil, areas that are almost like pure sand, loamy sands, rock…

Shatter occurs [when the clusters get wet from fog or rain during flowering]. Whether it happens depends on the weather that vintage. If it happens, it affects the flavor.

“How you train the vineyard also impacts the flavor of the wine. Cane pruning, versus cordon, versus [other types of training], all impact how the fruit grows, and so also the flavor. Pruning can have an important impact.

“Light levels affect development of anthocyanins and phenolics, [and the thickness of the skins]. When you have a lot of sun exposure, the plant wants a place for all that energy [from photosynthesis] to go. The fruit is a heat sink for that energy. So, sometimes leaving a lot of fruit on the vine in conditions like that can be really important. It might seem counter intuitive because we tend to think low yield is better, but not always. [How much fruit you leave on the vine is part of the overall vine balance, and depends on all these conditions.] When you have too many leaves on the vine, you’re going to get a real green development of underripe flavor in the wine.

“When people talk about making your vine suffer, it is not always a good thing. There are times when leaves are no longer photosynthesizing [because of how the vine is suffering], so the grapes are only ripening [gaining sugar] because they are dehydrating on the vine, not because they are receiving what they need from the vine. [The grape gains sugars, but the seeds are not ripening. It results in wine that tastes overripe and underripe simultaneously.]

[…]

“Terroir includes climate, the temperature, the rainfall… all of which vary depending on the time of the year. It includes the soil, which is part of the infrastructure, and the drainage of the vineyard. It impacts the texture, the minerality, the chemistry of the wine. There are also the socioeconomic aspects of the vineyard. [How the vineyard is planted, or pruned is part of the infrastructure of the vineyard, and is a matter of labor in the vineyard.] Some of this is a matter of what you can afford, your capital investment, and also of how you take care of your workforce, if they can afford to live and work there all year. [The capital investment in the vineyard, how much equipment is needed or used, the labor, how hand intensive the work is, the growing, the farming. All of this factors into yield. Yield can vary in some elements by vintage.] All of these are elements of the terroir.”

***

Thank you to Prudy Foxx, and Megan Metz.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com