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Casatierra Vineyard is another one that we were originally in contact with because of the work that we'd done with other wineries. It's a small vineyard of six acres and about seven clones of Syrah. Again, we had the chance to work with several of these different clones over the years, then decided which part of the vineyard we liked the best, which clone we liked the best. The grower, Pam York, is very nice and flexible to let us work in different ways like that. And we actually split that vineyard with Scott Harvey, a longtime winemaker, and we're very fortunate because we're able to go in and ask specifically for the little piece of the vineyard that best suits our wines and then Scott takes all the rest. So being small has its advantages in that sense, too.
The last vineyard — and again these are not in any order of preference, because I love all these vineyards — is Saralee's Vineyard, an icon of the Russian River Valley. [Unlike the other two vineyards], this one we actually started working with on our own; we found the vineyard when we started looking for some Roussanne. Roussanne is a difficult grape to grow and not that many people grow it, but it's a personal favorite of ours. In fact, before we were a commercial winery, we'd started producing a little Roussanne (from Saralee's) because we liked it so much. And after we'd done that, we started to explore other parts of the vineyard. Saralee has a vintner's tasting event each year, which is a phenomenal event that she puts on when most of the winemakers [who source her fruit] come back in the Spring. It's a wonderful tasting event because what happens is that we go up there and we'll literally taste, say, five different wines from different parts of a particular block, and then we talk about and share how we vinified each wine. And that process really informs the ideas we might start to have about other wines we might want to do from there, or even about the wines we're already making. In fact, we selected our Pinot Noir blocks, in part, as a result of that tasting. We gravitated to certain blocks with certain characteristics. The other wine we produce a bit from there, as well, is Viognier. That was another block that came about from already having worked with the grower. So, we got a small amount and though we weren't sure how we would use it, thought it would be nice to have and experiment with a barrel or two. And we just loved it! We ended up coming back to her the next year and actually taking up a little block of Viognier.
So these things happen kind of organically like that. Being small, it's all about these personal relationships with the different growers, where we can take a barrel or two and try something. We try to make an educated guess about whether something is going to work for us. Whether something works out one way or the other, we have that flexibility to make some little changes or adjustments. And in the end, it's always about making something as great as it can be. I really haven't had any bad experiences with growers to this point; it's all been about moving forward and striving to make better and better wines. That's what has been tremendously exciting for us about it!
NM: Focusing now on your winemaking itself, what are some of the practices you engage in, which you feel help to give your wines some of their distinction?
KL: Let me give you a little bit of insight into some of the things we do with our winemaking. In general, with our red wines, we de-stem but leave the berries whole as much as we can. This is not something I would expect to deviate from, unless I really saw something in the fruit that warranted it. For example, maybe we would want to do whole clusters in there because we see that there are some beautiful brown stems, and we'd think that the fruit would be compatible with doing something where we would want a little more earthiness or spiciness by adding a few of those stems. And the reason why we like to keep the berries whole — and generally a lot of winemakers like this, too — is that it's very gentle, which is important for Pinot Noir especially. Fermenting whole berries allows maybe a little bit of carbonic maceration to occur inside of the berry itself, which gets more of the fruit to come out in the wine. And that's a winemaking choice. Getting back to stem inclusion, generally we haven't done much of that. So, again, as a small winemaker we can make all those decisions when we look at the fruit when it comes in. Another choice we often make is cold-soaking, where we soak the berries and keep them cold before any fermentation starts, for potentially four or five days. It brings out the characteristics that are already there in the fruit — but again it's a winemaking choice, something that small producers can do in small, individual lots.
NM: You haven't mentioned much in the way of formal training in winemaking, and you're not hiring a consulting winemaker like a lot of wineries with a similar production model as yours. How did you learn to make wine?