The Barn at Ricci Vineyard, Carneros
Ricci Vineyard, Carneros, Sunday, September 16 a.m.
St Laurent Waiting for Harvest
St Laurent is a member of the Pinot family, thought of primarily as an Austrian grape. Its presence outside of the home country is slim, with small plantings present in New Zealand, British Columbia, and other areas of Central Europe. Matthew Rorick, of Forlorn Hope Wines, produces the only 100% varietal of the grape in the United States, sourcing from 90 vines at Ricci Vineyards in Carneros.
Matthew Rorick & Susanne Snowden Rorick Harvesting St Laurent Sept 16 a.m.
The Ricci Vineyard, in Carneros, has loam and alluvial clay soils, the combination of which offers ground that is both fertile and good for water retention. The Carneros area overlaps both Napa and Sonoma, and offers cooler temperatures and water influence from San Pablo Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
But the soils are also full of volcanic granite rocks, which helps retain heat over the course of the day. The higher proportion of granite found in soil, the more it helps to increase acid levels of the grapes growing in such a site.
The plantings of St Laurent producing fruit in the Ricci Vineyard were placed originally as an experiment by vineyard owner, Dale Ricci. Though he chose not to expand the plantings, Rorick found the fruit before they’d been removed, beginning his St Laurent varietal in 2007. He has also recently been able to convince Ricci to increase the plantings of St Laurent with another 1/2 acre of the vines recently grafted for Rorick. Because the number of plants currently producing are so low, Rorick harvests the fruit by hand himself with the help of friends. The 2012 harvest on the morning of Sunday, September 16 gave 824 pounds of grapes, a very good harvest for the finicky fruit.
Susanne Snowden Rorick shows a perfect and plump St Laurent cluster.
It is actually less common to find clusters of St Laurent so full of hens (large berries) and intact. St Laurent is known for being difficult to work with because of challenges that occur around harvest.
It is more common for St Laurent clusters to have a high proportion of chicks (small berries) with only a few hens showing. St Laurent skins are thicker than those of a Pinot Noir, though not highly so. Additionally, the skins carry a slightly spicy bite. As a result, the clusters with a greater proportion of smaller fruit offer distinctive flavors, and texture for the wine upon pressing.
However, it is also commonly the case that the smaller berries of St Laurent will shrivel right before harvest and simply fall from the cluster during picking. In the 2011 harvest Rorick was able to pick from only 45 vines, instead of his usual 90, and the majority of the clusters he harvested dropped all of their chicks, leaving only a handful of larger berries per cluster from which to make wine.
St Laurent is commonly described as half way between Pinot Noir and Syrah, both in terms of body and flavor profile, offering the lighter style of a Pinot Noir with a touch more heft, and the spice potential pointing towards Syrah. When picked overly ripe, however, it can also become quite fruit-sweet and quickly drop acidity levels. Rorick chooses to do a modified whole cluster approach when working with the fruit, in that he keeps the stems intact and does a very light foot tred to break some of the berries. He likes to keep the stems on this variety both because of the black tea notes they add, and also for the tannin influence. As Rorick puts it, “keeping the stems gives the wine a little more backbone.”
In deciding when to harvest any of his grape varieties, Rorick explains he picks with an eye towards acidity and flavor. As he describes it, the concept of ideal ripeness includes a range that people can choose when to pick within depending on their stylistic preferences. Those that Rorick is most inspired by pick only just into the early side of that ripeness window. Rorick tries to pick near or only just after their example.
In asking Rorick to name those he has been inspired by as a wine maker in his Forlorn Hope Wines, he immediately names Dan Petroski of Massican Wines, and Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars. He explains that he initially began questioning his own wine making upon noticing that there was a difference between the wines he was making (for a client prior to starting Forlorn Hope Wines)–big Napa Cabernet–and the wines he wanted to drink on his own–wines with lower alcohol and higher acidity. Eventually though, the connection to Passalacqua pushed Rorick into a philosophical reconsideration of wine making in general. The connection came from taking long car rides together on the way to inspect or harvest vineyards. In conversation with Passalacqua, Rorick began questioning his inclination to pick on the later side of ripeness, then add acid and water to bring the wines back into balance. Through conversations with Passalacqua, Rorick began to recognize the vineyard could do that work, leaving the fruit closer to the vine, so to speak. As a result, Rorick found himself turning his principles towards the vineyard, and what it can offer the winemaker.
Full conviction came when Rorick tasted Massican wines. Petroski picks on the earliest edge of ideal ripeness, keeping acidity as high as possible while striving for aromatics and fruit as well. As Rorick puts it, he loves Massican Wines, and seeing what Petroski is able to do with his picking practices pushed Rorick into a full realization of his newer approach.
As he describes it, Rorick’s views now are that wine is best made by using only what the vineyard has to offer. He is careful to explain that he isn’t claiming to be a low interventionist in his wine. The difference is in recognizing that by choosing to de-stem, or not, to cold soak, or not, to go through malolactic fermentation, or not, the wine maker is still working with what the vineyard has to offer, rather than adding distinctly new materials. The winemaker is intervening, they just are not adding outside chemicals. The focus, then, is not on avoiding choices of how to handle the fruit as much as in making a commitment not to add anything to that fruit besides SO2 for stability. As Rorick states, “if we’re making other adjustments in the winery, how are we getting a snapshot of what the vineyard is like? At that point it isn’t about the vineyard anymore.” He adds, “If I can’t get the result I want in the vineyard, then I’m working in the wrong vineyard.” Rorick further clarifies that this conviction continues into his stance on new oak. He chooses now not to use it because of how it adds such a significant flavoral difference to the wine. He does, however, use old oak barrels for aging.
2012 is the earliest Rorick has brought in his St Laurent, in terms of the fruits entry into its ideal ripeness window, that is, in terms of maturity. He says it is also the freshest the fruit has tasted straight off the vine.
More pictures of processing the St Laurent fruit on the way from Matthew Rorick!
Thank you to Matthew Rorick for including me in your St Laurent harvest.
Thank you to Susanne Snowden Rorick.
Thank you to David and Kim Evans.
A good pet to Coco.
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