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vertical vineyard Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Hidden Ridge TerracingNM:  Absolutely!  I've not visited many mountainside vineyards in Northern California, but I would hazard to guess that this one is, without a doubt, an absolute anomaly — until you get start comparing it to some old world vineyards.  The development here clearly required a tremendous amount of planning and creativity…

CW:  It took engineers — plus a lot of equipment, a lot of days, and a lot employees!

LH:  The consultants I brought here, well before that, said, "Well, this all might go well, if you can get it developed!"  And my attitude was, "Just do it.  What's the problem?"  Basically, we did one block, learned a little bit, then did another block, learned a little more, and continued that whole process until we finished.  If you were to do something [with this scale and complexity] now, you'd have a set of plans along with engineers out here at least a year beforehand, surveying and drawing it all up.  Of course, this was all planned — it had to be — but it was executed piece by piece.

NM:  Obviously, aesthetically, this is breathtaking!  But it's all the more impressive, considering the conceptualization that went into this, plus the fact that we simply don't see this sort of vineyard development in Northern California.  I've never seen vines planted to this level of steepness in Northern California

MG:  In the 25+ years that I've been looking at vineyards with a critical eye, the only places I've seen approaching this sort of steepness have been in other countries.  There's nothing else on the North Coast like this that I'm aware of — and I can say with reasonable certainly that there won't be any more vineyards like this, with the way hillside ordinances are now…

LH:  This is the last of its kind.

MG:  …there's not going to be another vineyard like this.  And so, it's a pretty special place in that regard.  If you took this degree of steepness and put it on Mount Veeder or on Geyser Peak, it would be a different story.  It's all about this specific location, the fog pattern, the angle of the sun, etc.  Everything here has different exposure in different soils, so even though its a contiguous piece of property, from a winemaker's perspective it's not just one uniform block of fruit.  The reality is that in any given year we'll pick between seven and fourteen different lots of wine that we'll ferment separately each of which has a very distinct character — maybe not different as night and day, but certainly with variations on a theme: this slope gets the morning sun and that one gets the afternoon sun, the stuff down here sits in the fog a little longer than the stuff up there does, etc.  Those sorts of minor differences in the vineyard end up creating bigger differences in the wines as we produce them.

NM:  So, not surprisingly, there's a significant amount of variability in this vineyard  — the aspect, the soil composition, the meso- and micro-climates, and such.  But what's interesting is that you take all that directly into consideration when you harvest the grapes, doing so in a way that's really mapped against the effects of those variables.

MG:  Absolutely.  Lynn, Cassidy, and [fellow consulting winemaker] Tim [Milos], and I spend a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out how we divvy things up on the ranch in a way that makes sense logistically to be able to pick, makes sense in terms of having an appropriate fermenter size in the winery, and yet at the same time reflects a cohesive expression of the type of fruit that we think represents a certain part of the vineyard.  And so that's the challenge: putting the fruit from a parcel here together with that from a parcel on another block with the same basic elevation and aspect on the other side of the mountain.  Plus, if that amounts to less than five tons, then we'll pick from yet another part of the vineyard that's similar, because that's what we need to get into the right size of tank and piece it all together that way.Densely Spaced Vines

NM:  Because this was all fairly recently planted (different parts at slightly different points in time), am I correct in understanding that you had to do quite a bit of your own empirical research to really identify what the characteristic nuances were in the grapes, depending on their location in the vineyard?