Where our wines are grown
Wine is ultimately dependent upon its raw material. All the essential and most interesting qualities of a fine wine come from the vineyard. Winemaking is important, but the grapes trump all. Vineyard location is everything. The variety planted there, how it is farmed, the vintage’s weather, and timing of harvest determine the nature of the wine. How the winemaker helps that nature to be displayed in the glass is mostly a matter of taking good care and not making any mistakes. There is a reason why, for centuries, certain vineyards have been famous and their wines have commanded high prices. Famous winemakers come and go. Yes, so do lousy ones- with more frequency.
We get our grapes from sustainably or organically managed vineyards, for reasons of environmental and human health, and because we are convinced they make better wine. We avoid vineyards that use riparian water for frost protection, due to their impact on salmon and steelhead (and all the other stream life). We buy dry-farmed fruit when possible, but since such vineyards are quite rare these days, most of the vineyards we use are drip irrigated.
Bunter Estate Syrah Vineyard
We planted our estate vineyard in 1992, on part of Dad’s three acres in the Coombsville AVA just east of Napa. We chose to grow Syrah after a lot of wine tasting, or “research”. We initially planted UC Davis clones 1 and 7, on a few different rootstocks, by hand, after a friend with a backhoe helped break up the rocky soil. With an iron bar, and about a quarter hour’s work, we could make a hole big enough for a vine. A couple years later, to identify the best plant material for our site, we added a few more rows, with different French clones and rootstocks. We now have five different rootstocks and six different clones. We figured out two things: 3309 rootstock works, and the clone, at this site, doesn’t seem to matter all that much. We also discovered cane pruning doesn’t suit this vineyard, and converted it from head trained and cane pruned to head trained with spur pruning.
In order to maintain an older average vine age, we replace vines individually as they decline, instead of replanting the whole vineyard every twenty or thirty years. We farm using only organic materials. For powdery mildew control we use elemental sulfur. Napa County requires us to use insecticide to battle the recently introduced European Grapevine Moth. We use Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a naturally occuring soil bacteria. Our fertilizer is supplied by Nephew Nick and Niece Leah’s four-legged 4-H projects. Frost control is limited to pruning as late as possible to delay budbreak. We suffer significant loss to frost damage almost every year. We use a well to irrigate the upslope vine rows, situated in shallow soil, a few times after the soil dries out in July. The bottom rows are dry farmed. In a good year, the vineyard produces two barrels.
Windsor Oaks Vineyard
We buy Chardonnay and Pinot noir grapes from Doug and Julie Lumgair, who manage Windsor Oaks Vineyard in the Chalk Hill AVA, in the Russian River Valley. They are dedicated, conscientious about caring for the land they farm, and the environment around it, and have a very capable team operating the vineyard. Their Pinot Noir ripens early, the Chardonnay in mid-season: both are always impeccably clean and sound with good acidity and low pH. The quality of this fruit means we can make good wine with very little input. The Chardonnay is Wente clone, the Pinot is 667 and 459. The vines were planted in 2001, and are drip irrigated. The vineyard is hilly, which helps prevent frost damage, as it allows the denser cold air to move downslope. By the way, their own Windsor Oaks Vineyards wines are excellent- every single one of them. It’s the most consistent lineup we’ve ever tasted.
For the 2011 vintage, we found some new vineyard partners in interesting places:
We bought Bordeaux varieties from John Muir’s great grandson, Bill Hanna, who, with his son Michael’s help, grows grapes in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. Oak Knoll has for years been known as a great place for Chardonnay and Merlot. It is in the southern, cooler end of Napa Valley. We like the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot from here; we can make lower alcohol wines with few additions. The Cabernet Franc grows just north of a grove of big redwood trees. Late in the season, with the afternoon sun low in the sky, long shadows cast by these trees make the grapes ripen very slowly. We joke about “shade-grown” red wine. The vines are ten to fifteen years old. The operation was organic for a while but they returned to sustainable farming after burning what they felt was too much diesel due to the more frequent spray schedule organic farming requires. They use an original and unique training and trellis system for their vines. It allows for good control of crop level, good light penetration and air flow into the canopy, but shades the fruit somewhat from the harsh afternoon sun which can cause sunburn. The vines are drip irrigated, fans provide some frost protection. They have their own winery, with a tasting room in the foothills, in Murphys. Their Chardonnay, Meritage and Merlot are excellent.
(No website… he hardly ever even answers his phone)
Wally farms like we do, with sulfur and not much else. His Carneros vineyard is right on the Sonoma Creek floodplain, so his fifteen year old vines don’t normally need irrigation. He grows the Swann and 667 clones of Pinot Noir. He makes a barrel or so himself most years, so pays close attention to his vines.
Lavio Ranch Vineyard
(No website, AND their dog bites)
Mike and Bea Charles grow Pinot Noir on her parents’ dairy farm on the Sonoma Coast west of Petaluma, near the Sonoma- Marin county line. Mike and Uncle Giacamo make wine in the basement, and do their bottling in the barn. They ferment in old milk chilling vats. On harvest day the whole family (fifteen people? twenty?) shows up for grape picking, followed by a big lunch and party. We buy their clone 115, planted six years ago. They use only sulfur as their fungicide. The vineyard is drip irrigated, but since they don’t have much water, only when absolutely necessary.
We continue to look for special vineyards, especially dry-farmed and organic ones, in our favorite areas. If you know of any, give us a call.