Saturday, February 16, 2008

Vineyard Tour #4: J. Rickard Vineyard and Winery

For our next tour, we go to J. Rickards Vineyards. this is my favorite vineyard that we have visited, and of course, I forget my camera. So I apologize for these horrible shots that are from my camera phone, which was for some reason set to "tungsten" setting. Who knew...

Well, Mr. Rickards is quite a character. He is self taught and WAY ahead of the curve in many areas such as sustainability, water conservation, using solar panels, integrated pest management and water capacity monitoring. But first let me tell you a little about the vineyard itself...

This area of Sonoma county was settled in the 1800's by a few Italian families and named "Italian-Swiss Colony." The vineyards planted here contain many vines over 100 years old, and many clones from the old world. Mostly Zinfandel, these vineyards were planted with a specific blend in mind. There might be 75% Zin, 5% Alicante Bouschet, 10% Carignane, 10% Mourvedre. The vineyards were harvested at one time and the grapes were co-fermented to produce a specific taste profile. Mr. Rickards is passionate baout learning the histories and collecting anecdotes of the families who lived here. He has gathered bud wood to preserve the many unusual clones that were grown here.

On his own land, he has to contend with 5 different types of soil on his 45 acres, some of which are extremely high in magnesium. He grows zinfandel, syrah, petite syrah, carignane, semillon, alicante bouschet, malbec and cabernet sauvignon. He has planted a very special block, his own field blend, in an attempt to re-create the wines of the Italian Swiss Colony's past.

I highly recommend a visit to this vineyard. Call to make an appointment to hear tales and taste his wonderful wines.
J. Rickards Winery
24505 Chianti Road
Cloverdale, CA 95425

Phone 707-857-3974

Friday, February 8, 2008

Vineyard Tour #3: Frei Vineyards

On February 6 we had the wonderful opportunity to visit with Jeff Lyon at the Gallo Family Dry Creek Frei Vineyards. On these 640 acres they grow Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay, Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet. Jeff is manages the entire ranch with amazing knowledge and experience.

Every block within the ranch is managed specifically according to varietal, rootstock, soil, spacing, and trellising system. In 1993-96 they developed a trellising system they call the "Elkhorn," a modification of the GDC or Geneva Double Curtain. It is a heavy duty cross arms systam with rake arms that control the canopy to provide correct sunlight penetration to the center clusters. Especially used for Cabernets, because Cabs take dappled sunlight for a prolonged ripening season in order to decay the green pepper vegetal flavor characteristics.

The Elkhorn Double Curtain

Another view:

These trellises can take a lot of weight. Jeff's research on Cabernet, and with the size of this ranch they have a lot of freedom to experiment, indicates that higher crop levels mean longer hang times, which produces higher quality fruit. He likes a N-S orientation for Cabernet rows.
He feels Cab does better on cordon trained vines because their buds tend to push at the end of the canes while the middle of the canes remain fruitless. thus kind-of negating the whole rationale for cane pruning. He is beginning to go away from renewal spurs, instead relying on the bas of the cane to produce next years wood.

The next block has been converted to box pruning to facilitate mechanized harvesting.
Converted to Box Pruning

Another view:

Very interesting: pull 2 canes upward to train out and create cordons on a higher pruning wire. These rows are managed completely by machine: pruned, de-leafed and harvested. The labor cost of cane pruned vines is high. With this system, you get a lot of very short shoots, tiny clusters, tiny berries, lots of sunlight, 20 more yield that VSP cane pruned vines (7+ tons/acre). Remember his philosophy that higher yield for Cabs produce better fruit. And also, these blocks produce fruit for the $8-10 bottle price point, therefore the imperative to decrease labor cost. Hand harvesting vines is a back breaking, slave driving, hell of a job that causes repetitive motion disorders such as bursitis and tendinitis. No one loves it, trust me, so I'm sure no one is crying over switching to other jobs in the vineyard.

Sheet Water Reservoir

Standard Cane Pruned Vines

Some interesting things garnered from this visit:
Pumice can be a problem: Pumice is the stems, seeds and other woody materials left over from the de-stemming and crushing. It is commonly stored and re-applied back into the vineyard. Pumice is high in potassium, but is also high in alcohol content (ie:red grapes) which turns to acetic acid in sunlight. Acetic acid is a highly effective herbicide, but you must apply it in the dry times. If it rains after application, it will kill your cover crop, and in years like this past harvest, it has rained a lot, so the piles of pumice just sit there. Of course you can compost it, but that decreases the acetic acid rapidly, so you lose that benefit. And not all soils need the extra K.

Gallo's Frei Vineyards has practiced sustainable growing for 20 years. They use no pre-emergent herbicides, only elemental sulfur and copper fungicides. These vineyards have not been tilled for many years. Jeff is aware that not tilling is better for the soil, resulting in less compaction, preservation of soil structure, and establishment of natural crop cover. The soil type at this ranch is the deep red Manzanita gravelly clay loam and this area has been farmed since the 1800's.

Head Pruned Zinfandel

Jeff with the Class

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Vineyard Tour #2: Emeritus Vineyards

On Jan. 29th our viticulture class visited the Emeritas Vineyards in Russian River Valley. More specifically it is in the Green Valley area within the Russian River Valley which is in the Sonoma County AVA. Did I get that right? ;)

Kurk Lokka, the vineyard manager and GM, is a SRJC graduate. He has been working in vineyards for 27 years and has amazing experience, local knowlege, opinions and a fantastic sense of humor. Here at the Hllberg vineyard in Sebastopol Emeritas grows several clones of Pinot noir. The main characteristics of the location are a sandy clay loam soil (Goldridge series), very fertile, high in nitrogen, with cold winter and spring nights, hot summer days and fog through May. The vineyard used to be apple orchards, and before anyone bemoans the loss of old apple trees, think about how grossly intensive the usage of really scary pesticides is involved in apple production. Replacing one agricultural crop with another doesn't bother me like chopping down Redwood forests to plant grape vines does. Plus these high quality fruit vineyards are usually either organic, biodynamic or else farmed with those principles clearly in mind. That to me could be a huge improvement over an apple orchard. At any rate, the amount of green compost left in the fields from the tree removal has created a high nitrogen environment in the soil.

Bilateral Cordon

Anyhoo, we visited 2 blocks of Pinot. The block pictured above was planted in 2000. Using bilateral cordons spur pruning, he harvests about 3 tons/acre. He does something a little different in that he leaves only one bud (not counting the basal bud) per spur. These vines are very vigorous so he tries everything he can to keep down the clusters per vine. Kurk's vine are pruned to perfection each vine almost completely uniform in number of buds, number of spurs and fruit position.

One bud per spur

Modified Guyott

The second block we surveyed was planted in 2001. Kurk has developed what he calls a modified Guyott training. In France the Guyott means training out the canes at 18", and pruning to leave one spur in one direction and a cane in the opposite. Kurk's method is to train at 40" high (to avoid back problems) to create 2 spurs in opposite directions. He looks for 7 buds per cane to produce 2 clusters per shoot. Again his vines are pruned to perfection and his attention to the vines is absolute.

Modified Guyott

Kurk is adamant regarding the following principles: no clusters touching, de-leafing by hand and picking at night. He never prunes in the rain and allows no big cuts and has so far been able to avoid Utypa. He desires 20 clusters per vine until the final thinning at which time he leaves only 12 per vine. He does 3 major thinnings: first around berry set to make sure clusters are not touching, de-leaf, and spray with SO2 and Copper. The second thinning is done at cluster closure to get right number of clusters and get a crop estimate. The third comes at veraison, at around 90% color and he pinches off all green shoulders or anything rosy. He routinely removes 50% of his crop at the second thinning.

Kurk gave us so much information! He would make a great teacher, and I suppose he is and that's why his crew has learned to care for the vines with such skill. One thing I have learned already is that great grapes make great wines, and great grapes take exquisite attention. That attention costs money in terms of labor and hands-on care throughout the year. That goes into and expensive bottle of wine, and for that, I would gladly pay.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Vineyard Tour #1: Bucklin Old Hill vineyard

I thought I'd get back to writing about my interesting classes. It always helps the ol' memory to write out these field trips as they happen. I'm enrolled in a Viticulture class at Santa Rosa Jr. College in which we visit high level vineyards in Sonoma and Napa counties and learn from the vineyard manager about the methods they utilize to grow premium quality fruit.

Bucklin Vineyards

California Buckeye Tree
On Jan. 23rd, our Viticulture class traveled to Bucklin Vineyards in Glenn Ellen. The Old Hill vineyard is the second oldest vineyard in Sonoma County, the oldest being one planted by General Vallejo himself. we learned that, in the 1800's the grape grown in California was the Mission grape, brought over by Spanish priests. the grape made terrible wine though, ans as one high ranking ambassador said about Gen. Vallejo's estate wine, "It was due only to politeness that I swallowed it."

Zinfandel, or Black St. Peters, as it was called, was grown in hothouses on the East coast as a table grape. One Mr. William McPherson Hill, after making a fortune in the Gold Rush, bought up land in Glenn Ellen and first planted table grapes. Later he planted zinfandel and made his first wine in 1862 to rave reviews (especially when compared to what was commonly available at the time!).

Besides Zin, Mr. Hill also planted at least 12 other varietals in the same block. Grenache, Morverdre, Syrah, Petite Syrah, Carignon, Alicante Bouchet and the other varietals are interspersed, as you can see on this map, and when the grapes are harvested at the same time and fermented (co-ferment) all together, it results in a wine that is called "field blend."
Field blends are interesting in taste and have a certain mystique, especially in this heyday of single varietal wines.

Will Bucklin
The current winegrower, Will Bucklin inherited the vineyard from his stepfather who adamantly cared for and protected these old vines, even when advised by the county ag commissioner to rip the whole block out and replant. Will has taken the personal mission to identify all the varietals in the block he is able to map their location using GPS.

120 year old Grenache

hese old vines are so interesting to look at. Sporting moss and lichen in their craggy twists and turns, it's amazing to examine the intricacies of the plant. When an old vine begins to fail, Bucklin will dose it with fertilizer to renew the rootstock until it bursts a bud, then graft on to one year old wood. He feels that it is so important to preserve the rootstock because those roots go down 15 to 25 feet and allow the vineyard to be dry-farmed.

Vineyard Kitty perfectly at home in the vines.

Bucklin Vineyards have been farmed organically since 1982 and was certified in 2002. About half of his grapes are sold to Ravenswood and are made into their Old Hill Zinfandel ($60). He makes his own wine too. His label is Bucklin and he produces a Syrah, Zinfandels, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Gewurztraminer that he will discontinue next year.

Bucklin follows what he calls "long pruning" for his head trained vines. He leaves 8 buds on a cane, then gradually prunes back to two. He feels that this lengthens harvest time and adds frost protection. With all these different varietals ripening in the same field, he picks twice each year at 25-28 Brix, since it's difficult to test each different varietal.

A perfect example of a head trimmed vine.

Acreage About 14 acres
Year planted Around 1880, oldest vineyard in Ravenswood portfolio
Soil type Clay loam
Climate "Banana Belt of Sonoma Valley"
Elevation Sea level
Exposure Slightly eastern
Spacing 6'X10'
Yield Less than 1.5 tons per acre
Varietals Old mixed vineyard, has Zinfandel, Mataro, Carignane, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah and various others
Rootstock Mixed/St. George

Previous vineyard posts:
vine budding and grafting
trimming vines

Previous wine posts:
now to the wines
month of mornings