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a garden in geyserville Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Balancing Depth and Breadth

Garden Creek Cover CropNM:  I see you as the caretaker of this land, as the bearer of the message that it has to convey.  Being in that role, how do you balance the passivity of allowing the land, vineyard, and grapevine to be as they want to be, with the activity of coaxing, directing, and facilitating it all in a particular direction?

JM:  I think maintaining balance is key.  And that's basically a balance in the vine, with its maturity and health of the fruit.  What Karen and I want to find in our wines is really having a feel for the land and a feel for the area around us, how it speaks to us and how we move through it.  We were both raised making wine from this area as kids, so it's in our blood — picking, crushing, fermenting, barrel-aging, bottling, and all that is innate and intuitive [for us].  With that, when we started making our wine, we thought, "Hey, this is not a garage-operation project anymore; this is something that's going to be a polished, high-end product that we'll want to share with people who are interested in it."  So, we decided to farm these grapes with the best possible quality that we can pull off of them, and by doing that we knew we'd have to pick vine by vine and area by area.

But getting back to your question, we're really trying to isolate all the little nuances in the vineyard.  I don't care who you talk to, but if they tell you they've got six acres that's totally homogenous with every vine tasting the same as every other — that is not the case!  Even if its perfectly flat; there are different subtleties in the soil underneath each vine that change the quality and taste of the fruit.  Karen and I are really trying to extrapolate on that and go out and pick those little spots that taste to us like the best fruit, like what were looking for.  And then we'll continue for four or five vines and then when [that flavor profile] starts to taper off, we'll stop there.  So we'll pick these small lenses [of flavor in the vineyard].  The dirt looks the same under all the vines; it doesn't look any different from the dirt two or three hundred feet away.  But the flavors in the vines are different.  It's amazing how much variability exists in a vine row, especially if you go up, over a hill and down the backside; it's amazing!  And if you could take all those little pieces, pick them, and ferment them all separately, tweaking every fermentation based on what you taste in the individual lot of fruit and what you feel you need to do with it, then the amount of complexity you get in a wine is amazing!  Whereas a larger [producer], who's got to pick 20 tons of fruit and put it all together into one large fermentation probably loses some of the complexity available from the field.

So we keep all those lots separate — each about a ton to a ton and a half — from fermentation, through ML, then in barrel, until we start comprising our blend.  Doing that really allows us to know what's going on in our vineyards every year.  But we don't necessarily take from all of those spots [to make the final wine]; every vintage is different — whether its a hotter year or a cooler year.  So it really allows us ultimately to make a wine that we dance and flow with every year.  And it feels right:  if you're going to make a top-quality product, you want to be able to pick the vines that are speaking to you.

KM:  We have thirteen tanks, so we can have a lot of tanks fermenting at once.  It's a lot of work doing it that way, but that's what allows us to do what we do with this wine.  It gives many more layers to it, and it allows a lot more creativity, too.

"We're really trying to isolate all the little nuances in the vineyard. Even if its perfectly flat; there are different subtleties in the soil underneath each vine that change the quality and taste of the fruit."

JM:  Karen and I just love being minute with that stuff.  It's a lot of fun and it's passion-driven.  I think that's the most important part for Karen and I, to keep it small, where we wake up every day and we're just excited to go up and see what the wine is doing, see how it has evolved.  There are times it's 1 a.m. and we're still working in the winery; we'd be so into it!

KM:  It doesn't feel like work.  Work, to us, is selling!  {chuckling}  Making the wine is easy!

JM:  So, ultimately, we finish making our wine and have an end product — a component that came off of our land with our creativity [after having] coaxed it using the tools that mother nature gave us.  I think every year it's a challenge to try to create something as good, if not better, than the previous vintage, but [we always ask ourselves] what we can do to make it better.



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Aspinal of London (US)