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the magic of montemaggiore Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Montemaggiore VineyardLeaf-pulling is another example: if you have a huge canopy, then what you'll do is pull leaves in certain spots so that light gets through; you'll want to have some leaves but not a lot.  But again, [just as with dropping bunches], it takes a lot of hand labor to pull those leaves.  [Going through those experiences have since taught us that] if you do your severe pruning and do it right, then you don't get those extra bunches of fruit that you would otherwise have to green harvest, and if you limit you're watering, you don't get such a huge canopy that you would later have to pull leaves from.  It's all about balance.  You want a healthy vine, but you don't want it to do what Syrah naturally does: put out lots of bunches and grow a huge canopy.  All of these lessons went into the decision to plant the Syrah vines on 4x4 spacing — to encourage competition between the vines so that in the end, the canopy is smaller and the number of bunches it produces is small, and we don't have expend as much manual labor to make it all happen.

NM:  In light of the path that you took in learning to grow grapes and make wine, to what extent are the methods and techniques that you practice based in a priori knowledge you learned academically as opposed to more empirical discovery you gained through experience?

LC:  Let me answer that by going back a little bit.  There are many things I know about the wine business now that I never would have imagined before I started.  I came from a relatively scientific background —there are rules, you read the research, you do the work, and it's all going to work out.  The thing I've learned is, that is not how it works in the wine business!  You can read the research and it will prove, without a hair of a doubt, that in this ten square meter plot of land this particular thing will happen.  Well, guess what?… What can happen on your ten square meter plot of land is completely different from somebody else's ten square meter plot of land.  In fact, even within your own vineyard, completely different things occur from one plot to the next!  Everything in wine is relative.  And that's one of the most frustrating but also one of the most wonderful things about wine, from a scientific standpoint.  You read these papers in respected journals that are very inspirational, and say "Ah, I think this is going to work for me!"  And either it doesn't actually work for you or you read another paper that unequivocally contradicts it!  {laughing}  For example, one of the anecdotes in the wine industry is that the lower you crop your grapes, the more intense flavors you end up having in your wine…

NM:  But there's a point of diminishing returns.

"What can happen on your ten square meter plot of land is completely different from somebody else's ten square meter plot of land."

LC:  … There's definitely a point of diminishing returns.  But not only that.  Every year, the American Society of Enology and Viticulture holds their annual meeting where they award the top two papers, one in each of the disciplines.  Last year's top award in viticulture absolutely flatly denied [the correlation between crop levels and flavor intensity]!  There are so many other factors involved, like pruning, training, trellising.  So, even taking diminishing returns into consideration, you still can't really depend on that anecdote as a rule.  You just have to figure it out for yourself!

NM:  Lowering crops evidently has other risks, as well.  I'm currently reading New Classic Winemakers of California, and in it (during an interview with author Steve Heimoff) Andy Beckstoffer makes what I feel is the very provocative assertion that there's a point beyond which cutting yields actually throws the vine out of its natural balance, resulting in vegetal flavors, which in turn encourages growers to allow for longer hang time, which ultimately increases potential alcohol.  In short, cutting yields in the vineyard may be part of what's causing increasing levels of alcohol in wines worldwide!  I was stunned on reading that!  It's just not something we read about in the press or hear about when commonly discussing the prevalance of high alcohol.

LC:  I could certainly believe that, to a certain degree.  I would also say that one of my life's philosophies is balance.  Everything is about balance.  Of course, balance for one person is different from that of somebody else.  Similarly, a balance in one vineyard is different from that of another.  You have to find what that balance is in your own vineyard.  And I don't mean that in some nebulous, metaphysical way; there are some very real considerations — things like crop level, soil fertility, pruning.  Nothing is bad except when it's at an extreme.



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