Ribolla Gialla in Russian River Valley: Visiting the Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard
Chris Bowland, of Bowland Vineyard Management, fell in love with old vine, head trained zinfandel and in 2006, along with his wife, Tanya, decided to start a zinfandel vineyard in Russian River Valley. The Bowland’s Vineyard sits, then, at the Eastern end of the Valley on 6 acres of land, with 5 vine planted.
The challenge, as Bowland describes it, with striving for an old vine zinfandel vineyard rests in having to begin first with young vines. Old vines only develop from having at some point been planted new. Currently, in California, it can be hard to afford cultivating the younger plants because of the difficulty associated with selling their fruit year to year. As Bowland explains, everyone wants old vine zin, and so few purchase the fruit from younger vines. In order to enrich the economic viability of their family vineyard, the Bowlands decided to move from their Zinfandel-only property, to cultivating other varieties as well.
Bowland wanted to incorporate white grapes, and so turned to UC Davis to find cuttings for plants less known in the area. As a result, in 2010, he budded over a half acre total of both Fiano, and Greco, and also purchased all of the cuttings the university had of Ribolla Gialla–enough for two rows. In 2011, Bowland was then able to bud over three more rows of Ribolla, taken from his own young plants, leading to 3/4 of an acre now total–the second largest planting of the variety in North America (to the Vare Vineyards 2 1/2 acres).
The Ribolla Gialla of Russian River Valley stands in important contrast to that found at the Vare Vineyard in Napa Valley. In terms of site specifics, Bowland Vineyard offers heavy clay loam for the plants to root in, while the Vare vineyard rests in more rocky soils. While Vare vineyard is in the much warmer Napa Valley, it still sits in a cold air drainage at the start of Napa’s Dry Creek Canyon. Tanya vineyard, on the other hand, is found in the cool climate Russian River Valley, at the more open Eastern end, with its Ribolla harvest already several weeks behind that of Vare’s.
Another interesting factor plays out in the differences between Bowland and Vare fruit. While the cuttings of Ribolla Gialla found at Vare Vineyard made their way into the U.S. through rather direct routes between Italy and California, the Bowland cuttings arrived certified clean from UC Davis. Vare Ribolla is known to be loaded with multiple viruses, that would seem to both limit the vigor of the vines, and bring character to the fruit. Depending on ones view, the clean cuttings may improve the overall quality of the variety, while others worry clean cuttings will lead to less interesting overall flavor. The Bowland’s vineyard, however, is entirely new, as are certified clean Ribolla Gialla vines in North America. At this point, the resulting differences from lack of virus are not yet apparent.
What can be seen just from looking at the current crop at Bowland’s vineyard is at least two fold–the Ribolla fruit is large and consistently sized, and the overall crop is considerable. Bowland admits he is learning the fruit, and its preferred farming methods over time. While he’s pleased with this year’s abundance he believes next year he is likely to drop fruit earlier in the season to channel the vines vigor into fruit character.
2012 will be the first year Bowland’s Ribolla is sold for commercial harvest. Three winemakers are purchasing the fruit for production–Jim Cowan of Cowan Cellars, Dan Petroski of Massican Wines, and Thomas Brown of Schrader Cellars. In 2011 Bowland kept the fruit from his two rows of Ribolla Gialla for a home wine project he describes as made in more of an ultra clean “chablis style.”
Thank you to Chris Bowland for taking time to meet with me!
Thank you to Dan Petroski.
Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-1-meeting-george-vare/
Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: (A Life in Wine) George Vare, Friuli and Slovenia: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-2-a-life-in-wine-george-vare-friuli-and-slovenia/
Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: Friuli Fest 2012, Ribolla Gialla Tasting and Discussion: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-3-friuli-fest-2012-ribolla-gialla-tasting-and-discussion/
Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/09/14/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-4-harvest-of-the-george-vare-vineyard-with-steve-matthiasson/
Attending Ribollat Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/04/23/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-6-the-vare-vineyard-tasting-arlequin-wine-merchant/
Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/05/01/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-7-the-matthiasson-vineyard-napa/
Post-edit: The Bowland’s vineyard is named “Tanya’s Vineyard.” Previously this post referred to the vineyard simply as “Bowland Vineyard.”
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