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vertical vineyard Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

vine_vista_smallNM:  What has working with this vineyard taught you specifically about the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal?

MG:  I don't know if it's taught me so much as it has underscored the fact that [Cabernet Sauvignon] is a very versatile grape and can do a lot of wonderful things in a lot of different ways.  One of things I like working with it is that — unlike some other varieties that are a lot more site sensitive and simply don't work in such a wide range of locations  — Cabernet will manifest with differences in style depending on site, and you'll find people that will like each of those styles.  In fact, you'll hear very spirited debates about which is better or worse.  Of course, I'd already known that about Cabernet but this vineyard really highlights that fact.  The other thing, and something that I feel very strongly about, is that good Cabernet, if you grow it in the right place, doesn't need any other grape variety to go with it.  Good Cabernet stands on its own, the same way good Pinot Noir or good Chardonnay does.  You don't need to blend Cabernet Franc or Merlot into it.  I like that this property shows me a pretty broad range of Cabernet Sauvignon expression, all at a high level of quality, and doesn't beg for me to go find something to try to blend with it.  From this vineyard, it's a complete wine, in and of itself.

NM:  This site, as small and as specialized as it is, technically doesn't fall into any specific sub-appellation — neither on the Napa or Sonoma side.  But based on the flavor profiles you're seeing in the fruit and again in the finished wine, which appellation would you say this site most resembles?

MG:  It just so happens that the county line crosses at the wrong place, but this is essentially Spring Mountain.  It's one of the unfortunate realities of appellations that they're not based purely on the wine and its attributes; it's every bit as much political, too.  But that's not a judgement; it's just what it is.  So, from a wine standpoint, Hidden Ridge really should be Spring Mountain Cabernet: it's red-fruit driven — red raspberry and cherry — and structured, but not in the same way as a Mount Veeder Cabernet where the tannins tend to be a lot more elevated.  The fruit here is moderate-to-late ripening, so I can let it hang perhaps a little longer here than I could, say, on Diamond Mountain.  So, the Cabernet from here is distinct.  Even so, within any appellation, you'll sometimes have vineyards that will produce unique characteristics in and of themselves.  But I'm not sure we've done wine here long enough to establish that in this case, though it could very well prove to be just that kind of vineyard.

NM:  It sounds, then, that with this vineyard, you guys are still in the discovery and exploration phase.  How are you with that uncertainty, juxtaposed against the fact that this is a commercially viable wine?

"For me to get excited about a vineyard at this point in my life, it's got to be a very special vineyard."

MG:  Well, in the end, it's got to taste good!  {chuckling}  And I believe we've been doing a good job of that.  But the subtleties of how and why it tastes good, or whether it does so in the same way every year, are things that still need to work themselves out.  The bottom line, though, is that the wine tastes good.  That's what gives up hope, keeps us going, and makes us a success in the marketplace.  In the end, thankfully, it's more about the hedonistic reward that the consumer gets from a wine, as opposed to the academic reward of understanding how the wine got that way.

LH:  Another thing that's not often talked about is that over time, we discovered that when it comes to the top high-end winemakers, one place that you will never find them during harvest is at the winery.  Never!  At 6 o'clock in the morning, they're out in the vineyard tasting grapes until the sun goes down.  There's two extremely important decisions that a winemaker makes: first is choosing the vineyard to use, and second is when to pick the grapes.  One time, around harvest, when I came out to the vineyard to talk to Marco, I had brought a refractometer with me; I'd never done this before.  So he says, "Well, first of all, you can throw that damned thing away.  We don't use those."  {laughter}  And I said, "We don't?!  Well, how do we figure out when we're going to pick?"  He says, "We taste the grapes."

MG:  It's got to be that way.  And in a vineyard like this, it's even more important because there's so much variation.

NM:  That's potentially an entire topic of discussion, perhaps even debate!  Because what it really boils down to in winemaking is the qualitative vs. quantitative approach.  It sounds like your own take is one that's more intuitive and based in experience, rather than one that dismisses all that in favor of the objective measurement afforded by instruments.  Tell me about that.



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