The vineyard is where it all happens. The potential of what a wine can be is ultimately limited by what comes to the winery in the grape harvest bins. There are definitely important things that influence the flavors and textures which are imparted through the winemaking process, but most of the crucial work is done in the vineyard. Lots and lots and lots of work. (See the definitions of “slavery" and then “infinity” in the dictionary.) We know this because we are a family operation and, being scientifically inclined, we understand the concept that work expands exponentially to fill all of time. And then some.
Our vineyard and winery are located in North State California, in eastern Shasta County between Shingletown and Manton. This is in the Shasta-Cascade region, not far from Lassen Volcanic National Park in the mixed evergreen and oak foothills around Manton Valley, which is an American Viticultural Area (AVA). The climate is genuinely Mediterranean with wet, cool winters and hot, dry summers. As a grape growing region it is similar to Calistoga at the northern end of Napa Valley.
The vineyard has six varieties of grapes, including: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Barbera, Malbec, and Merlot. It has 3237 vines and covers about 2 hectares in area. (Imagine having that many children to take care of, and you can get a feeling for the aforementioned work volume.) The first plantings were accomplished in 2005. Elevation of the vineyard is above 600 meters (about 2000 feet) with the winery overlooking it 35 meters higher up. Great views of the Lassen Volcanic complex are afforded, featuring Lassen Peak, a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1915. The vineyard lays right at the base of a 1100 meters-elevation mountain ridge and every evening the cool mountain air settles down over it, helping to preserve the natural acidity in the grapes. Summer nighttime temperatures in the vineyard are a dramatic 3 to 4 degrees Celsius lower than at the winery just above it. The vineyard soil is a red clay loam that was laid down by volcanic and glacial mudflows onto the underlying basaltic lava flows. The grapevines are irrigated using a drip system that utilizes the cold, crystal-clear groundwater that flows from the Lassen complex through the fractured volcanic bedrock underlying the area. It is pure and delicious water.
We have employed only organic methods in establishing and farming the vineyard. Yes, it has taken more effort than driving around with a tractor spraying chemicals to “control” nature. And we can feel that extra effort in our muscles and bones every day, too. But to us the added quality of life we experience is worthwhile, and we are so glad to be able to have people share that with us through our wines.
We maintain a permanent vegetation cover on the vineyard floor to avoid soil erosion and to prevent dust from getting onto the vines and grapes. The cover consists of grasses, filaree, clover, and wildflowers. The vineyard is mowed only once each year, after the desirable plants have set seed and hopefully before the weeds have done so; through this process, combined with hand-pulling, we keep weeds under control.
To prevent damage to the vines by animals there is a deer fence surrounding the vineyard, and bird netting is installed over the vines once the grapes begin to gain color. Predatory animals, such as foxes, coyotes, and snakes, are allowed to pass through the vineyard so that the populations of detrimentals, such as small rodents, gophers, ground squirrels, and jackrabbits, are kept in balance. In late summer wild turkeys saunter through the vineyard gobbling up any grasshoppers. Native spiders, lady beetles, lacewings, and preying mantises do a respectable job of keeping harmful insects from damaging the vines.
At harvest time we are especially diligent in assuring that the quality of our winegrapes is the utmost. Rather than racing through the vines, cutting and dropping clusters as fast as one can, we apply the opposite approach. Every cluster is edited for unworthy berries as it is cut from the vine. Some berries may be damaged, unripe or hard little green berries, or have shriveled, and we eliminate them from what is destined to become wine. It's a lot of detail work, and most people think we're crazy. But it really makes a difference in the quality of the wine and also makes it unnecessary to employ chemical methods to correct the flavor and texture of it later on. (More on that on the Winemaking page.) A painstaking effort indeed, but again the quality is passed through to you who partake of the wines.
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