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Vineyard Philosophy & Vineyards
The most critical issues in viticulture and winemaking is to understanding precisely what is meant by the two statements; 1 “The wine is made in the vineyard” and 2 “the finest wines are successfully produced from grapes grown in marginal cool climates”.
In the first sentence, the words “is made” has been bolded to emphasize that all quality in a finished wine is present in the grape when it leaves the vine. It will not ripen further in the winery nor become more varietaly correct. From that point forward winemaking is about stewardship, in essence understanding the fruit and what to do with it so as not to do things that detract from the final quality of the wine.
In the second sentence, the word cool has been bolded to emphasize that the reciprocal, that is making wines from grapes grown in a marginally warm climate for the varietal is never thought to result in a fine wine. The flavors in such a wine are often described as raisined, stewed or cooked. The reciprocal, that is growing grapes in a climate too cool to ripen the fruit produces unripe or green, stem-like aromas and flavors that is equally problematic.
The word successfully was bolded to emphasis that success, defined as quality wine or fiscal success is only achieved in the right climate. All the while climate is the average of the weather and each vintage has its own weather. To be economically viable the climate must adequately ripen the grapes in even the coolest years while never being excessively warm in even the hottest years. Thus only the ideal varietal site-climate match, lying safely between these extremes, is an economically successful choice. The critical issue in varietal site matching then becomes, how much safety, or extra warmth or cold are you willing to tolerate in the pursuit of excellence?
When matching the climatic requirements of a particular varietal to a climate the odds of economic and vinous success may be heightened by certain site specific considerations. In this philosophical sense, there are four major attributes that require further discussion as one approaches a varietal's marginally cool limits. They are;
Furthermore, if irrigation water is available and the vineyard is so equipped there is an additional technique, Regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) that can be used to accelerate ripening and improve fruit flavors in a marginal cool climate. RDI is practiced after vines have reach their full size by irrigating with reduce volumes such that the soil water deficit accelerates vine and fruit maturity. This process works best on hillside vineyards with shallow soils. Thus in the pursuit of excellence in a marginally cool climate, RDI may be used when necessary to nudge your precious crop to within the safety brackets that are required.
Whether one thinks of this as a philosophic issue or not the most important decision in viticulture is varietal site matching. The fact we moved our family 2700 miles for the opportunity to grow Tempranillo at Abacela should suggest we would not be willing to plant other varietals that didn't appear likely to succeed in this climate. For that reason we don’t grow cool climate varietals like Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, etc for which the climate is excessively warm. Many people find the list of winegrapes we grow at Abacela unusual but we didn't follow fashion but rather selected the varietal based on their homes of origin sharing a similar climate to that at Abacela. Even after all this it’s not over when the plant is in the ground. We also remove from production varietals that do not produce fine wines consistent with being produced at or near their marginally cool limits. Already we have removed 6 experimental varietals and replaced them with others more suited to the site-climate at Abacela.
There are many other issues one might consider under vineyard pillows or principals. The most important, including perhaps a few practices are;
Vineyard design or layout, including aspect and row direction. In general most rows are oriented north/south but we have planted some varietals on east/west oriented rows to shade the fruit on the vine rows north side from the sun. There are some advantages for rotating the traditional north /south rows 18-20 degrees further west such that the canopy provides some shade to the fruit from the intense early afternoon sun.
There are of course many choices and decisions regarding clones and rootstocks. For example we cultivate 7 clones of Tempranillo, 4 clones of Grenache, 3 clones of Syrah, two clones of Albarino, etc. Approximately 90 percent of the vines in Fault line vineyards are grafted. The remaining ten percent are intentionally planted on their own roots. This allows one to appreciated the rootstocks effect on vine vigor etc, as well as gain some margin of safety against a sever winter deep-freeze killing the more susceptible grafted vines. We have tried many different rootstock but have settled on, in large part because of our distinctive soils 44-53, 101-14, 3309 and 420-A.
Row to row width has been largely determined by safety issues and tractor size. Plant to plant in row spacing has been carefully studied including the knowledge gained from trials ranging from 6” between plants, and at 1 foot intervals there on to 10 feet. The average spacing is 5’(1.5 meters).
We have experimented with four trellis types, including bush or goblet vines and have settled on vertical shoot positioning as the best choice. We have utilized balanced pruning knowledge to adjust vine size. We use both cane and spur on cordon pruning and have found that certain varietals do better on cane pruning and others vice versa.
We firmly believe in sustainable farming and fully recognize that if we did not we would have no future. We have never used an insecticide and have no intention of every doing so. We manage in-row weeds (a narrow strip beneath the vine) by either tillage, light herbicide spray or a combination of both measures. We spray for control of powdery mildew and botrytis. We have never used paraquat or any other restricted use spray material that is dangerous to humans and we have no plans to do so.
We may, if needed adjust canopy and fruit sun exposure by leaf pulling. Crop load is controlled by pruning, shoot thinning and fruit thinning to approximately 2.5 tons/acre or (5609 Kg/Hectare) which yields about 375 gallons of wine per acre or 35 hectoliter per hectare.
The first modern winegrape planting on this property was in 1995. The name Fault Line Vineyards was derived in the years that followed by the discovery of an important geological fault on the property. This slowly moving thrust fault, albeit visible on the ground surface has existed for approximately 25 millions of years and is not predisposed to earthquakes or even mild tremors. The fault line partitions the property roughly along an east west line into an ancient southern and a youthful northern portion. Differences in bedrock geology and soils on the two sides are dramatic and dictate how the land can be utilized for vineyard layout and design. Abacela’s estate vineyards have been shaped by that fault into three distinct planting parcels that now total 77 acres.
Cobblestone Hill Parcel This parcel was planted in 2000 and named for the numerous small to medium sized cobbles found on and around its chief feature–a very steep hill. The vineyard straddles a visible fault line and to the south of the fault line the soil, like that of Cox’s Rock vineyard, contains many boulders and large rocks. North of the fault line the soils contain only round rocks ranging in size from that of a golf ball to a basketball. The cobble soil has a texture of cracked rock and fine sand and is exceedingly porous. This parcel was largely planted as expansion blocks for varietals that had worked well in Cox’s Rock. Today this vineyard consists of 23 acres, subdivided by soil differences and topography into seven management blocks; North East, South Face, South Slope, West Slope, Angle, Cross, and North Slope.
Chaotic Ridge Parcel Planted most recently in 2004 and 2005, the vines in Chaotic Ridge were chosen to provide the acreage necessary to meet market demand for varietal wines for which grapes were otherwise in short supply both at our estate vineyards and in the region. The name Chaotic seems apropos given the fact the vineyard’s soil and bedrock geology are, in contrast to Cobblestone Hill, so tumultuous that the exact course of the fault remains obscured. Today, Chaotic Ridge comprises 18 acres and is subdivided into four management blocks, Knoll, East Hill, Tiny and West End.
Grand Hill Parcel The new parcel, Grand Hill has a south to south west aspect with a slope of more than two hundred vertical feet from its peak elevation (816 feet) to its lowest point, 597 feet above sea level. We anticipate planting 17 acres in the cobbled soils of this well drained hill. The vines will mature slowly and hopefully increase production from our current level to a new production goal of 10,000 cases per year by 2012. Picture
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