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a garden in geyserville Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Garden Creek Welcomes YouJM:  And a level of respect that some farmers don't have for winemakers and that some winemakers don't have for farmers!  You take a winemaker and you give him ten acres of vineyard and a mortgage, and all of a sudden he'll understand exactly what it takes to grow grapes!  Suddenly he won't think you can demand 'one cluster per shoot' — that is not going to work in this program, because you need a little more yield!  {laughter}  The whole dance now becomes much easier.  And is it even true that one cluster per shoot is better than two?… No, not always.  It's what it takes to reach vine balance.  On the other hand, I hear from other [non winemaking] growers who complain that the wineries buying their fruit want them to drop more fruit from their vines.  In some of those cases I'll say, "Well, yeah, you need to drop some fruit because you've got twelve tons to the acre out there, maybe you ought to drop it down to seven or six!"  But then it all depends on the price point — what are they getting paid per ton?  What program or quality of wine is it going make?…

But the one thing that I have learned [to be sure of] in the world of making wine and growing grapes is that the greater the [vine] stress, the smaller the vine, the more intense your grapes are.  It's like in a peach tree orchard where you've got these big trees with abundant, beautiful fruit that are surrounding this one old, decrepit tree that's barely producing but a fraction of the same variety of fruit — peaches that are half the size — but that fruit, in comparison to the newer trees, is so intense!  That's one thing I know as a grower, making wine now: the higher the density of planting, the smaller the vine, the smaller and more concentrated the fruit, the richer the wines.  And the French have figured that out, too, which is why they have high density plantings with a gobelet setup.  I think the Europeans had figured it out a long, long time ago: more density, more vigor control, and less fruit per vine — but the fruit that's on the vine is naturally balanced to it, and it's rich.  It'll be interested to see in the next 30, 40, 50 years here in California the direction of denser planting with our own climate — we're a very dry yet vigorous climate here, one of the best climates for growing grapes.

NM:  Yes!  I think the one advantage in some European regions is that they have the history and length of experience with which — against the odds — to work with some of their more challenging climates and to maximize the potential of the grapevines growing in those regions. Whereas Californians haven't yet had the length of time to discover nuances in our own terroir.  But on this ranch, it sounds like you've actually made the absolute best of opportunities for learning that have come your way.  Is there anything else fundamental that you've learned from winemaking that you've perhaps applied to your life in general?

JM:  Never be overly confident {laughing} — in any aspect of it whatsoever!  Once you're convinced that something is going in the direction that it should be going, you lose your edge, you lose that watchful eye.  For example, towards the end of a growing season, you get your vines up, you get the leaves pulled — you might get confident that the fruit is going to ripen and not pay attention, but that's when you'd get a heat spell and your crop gets fried or shriveled on the sunny side.  I think the same goes for making the wine and following the wine throughout the years in barrel; it's important to always, always look over your shoulder and ask if there's something you can do better.  And I think [another thing I've learned] is just staying humble.  It's important not to feel like you know exactly what you're doing; it keeps the creative side going.

"You take a winemaker and you give him ten acres of vineyard and a mortgage, and all of a sudden he'll understand exactly what it takes to grow grapes!."

KM:  We've both been in the industry all our lives.  There's a different level, of course, when you become an adult and collaborate with your partner-for-life and start a business together.  In creating wine together, too, what I've learned is that it's a dance between us, where we're allowing each other to do the things that we're good at.  I think we have that inherently within us, that we like to do things right the first time, rather than go back and fix it.  It's a good relationship we have with each other…

JM:  And being grateful to have one another every day, too.  It's a team, definitely a confidence-builder, because you've got that backup.  We rely on one another when we're out doing things in the world.

Humility, gratitude, integrity: simple values, to be sure, but ones that have allowed Karin and Justin Miller to sustain their love of the land and continue to convey its message through the raising of thriving vines and crafting of thrilling wines.  All this from what is essentially a garden… a garden growing in Geyserville.  To learn more about these wines and how to get them, visit Garden Creek Vineyards online.  v



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