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vertical vineyard Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Winemaker Marco DiGiulioMG:  They're not too different, really, than what they are in a lot of other places.  Making sure we have the right amount cropload, first and foremost — and that doesn't mean the least amount of crop; it means the right amount, given the size of the vine and vigor of the area in which that vine is planted.  We spend a great deal of time and energy figuring out what that balance should be, because it changes from year to year.  And then, the biggest issue here and the thing that's harder to do here than in most vineyards in which I've worked, is to determine at harvest time when to pick the grapes, in what combination, and in which order?  This vineyard is sprawling, so it's complicated, even from just the standpoint of flavor development.  And it's all the more so by virtue of the logistics involved — things like getting the right numbers of workers and of bins that we need to harvest what we want, getting the tractors set up correctly, getting the fruit out at an early enough hour that we can process everything at the winery.  These are all things that may seem very mundane, but they have a huge impact on the quality of the wine!  So, we spend a great deal of time and energy putting these plans together.  And it's not like we can sit down only once [prior to harvest] and plan out what we're going to do; it's a constantly shifting, multi-variable equation.  At harvest time, I'll be out here early in the morning and then leave.  Then I'll come back to meet up with Lynn and Casidy later that day when the fruit is arriving at the winery.  And then all the opinions that I'll have been forming in my head about how we're going to progress over the next few days, I have to readjust based on unexpected news we might learn on the day of picking, especially with regard to tonnage.  The plan is in constant evolution, based on what nature ends up giving us.  It's hard enough to estimate tonnage in a flat vineyard where things are relatively uniform.  In the case of a vineyard like this with varied topography, there's no rhyme or reason at all to what you can expect your tonnage to be, and so you really have to be flexible.  That's the importance of working with professionals who really get it and aren't so fixated on the convenience of things happening in the way they might want, which can put a damper on what you're trying to achieve from a quality standpoint.

NM:  So, the market variability in the terrain here at Hidden Ridge makes for some real challenges in maintaining the vineyard and harvesting from it.  What are some of the other challenges with this site that are unique, as compared to other hillside vineyards you've worked with.  And on the flip side, what are some of the rewards?

MG:  It's such an extreme terrain that it just throws a unique set of variables into the mix that in many other cases you wouldn't have to worry about.  That, by far, is the biggest obstacle that this presents over other vineyards.  I would argue, though, that the benefits outweigh those challenges.  Because here you have, within one 50-odd contiguous vineyard, a level of variety and complexity comeing out in the fruit that's grown here that you simply wouldn't get in a comparably-sized vineyard anywhere else.  We have an elevation change that's huge…

LH:  It's about 1700 foot elevation up at the top, and then down at the bottom it's down to about 900 feet.

MG:  Whew, that is huge!  It's a big spread!  And the climate up at the top is going to be very different than it is down at the bottom.  And so here, you're not blending different vineyards; it's a single estate vineyard that has a level of complexity and variation that you just don't normally see.  It's unique in that regard.

NM:  And you're actually making crucial winemaking decisions based on that variability.  For example, how many different lots of fruit are you fermenting separately, on the average, and are they really based purely on unique characteristics of the vineyard blocks?

MG:  We've had as few as six, and as many as twelve, fermentations from a single harvest.  And those are based on parts of blocks that we feel ripen at similar times, rather than the discrete blocks themselves, because with elevation and aspect being so extreme here, the top of any given block will ripen differently from the bottom of that same block.  So the fermentation lots are chosen not as much by pure geography as they are by relative degrees of ripeness and evolution of fruit character, based on what I want to see systemwide coming off the vineyard.

NM:  And so what that strongly suggests to me, is that you're formulating a cuvée every single vintage, making what amounts to a 'recipe' based on 'ingredients' that come in the form of individual lots of fruit with slight variations in character.  What is that experience like, how is it advantageous, and how do you manage the inevitable variation in the recipe from vintage to vintage?




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