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MG: The reason that I have such a high degree of confidence and certainty in [the subjective] being the right approach for us is the fact that I don't know anybody who's ever opened a bottle of wine and then used an instrument to decide whether they like it or not! I don't even know what instrument that would be. You open a bottle of wine, you smell it, you taste it, you drink it. Of course, I didn't have this attitude right from the beginning. Coming out of school, I thought of myself more as a scientist who had to measure everything. It took me a while, but I finally had an epiphany where I realized, quite simply, that the wine's got to taste good! If I get all the textbook numbers, but the fruit tastes green or chalky, then it's not going to translate into good wine, regardless of what those numbers say. And it's got to taste good out here because I don't do anything in the winery that changes the basic nature of what comes off the vineyard.
LH: After you've done it a while, the grapes will taste just like the wine.
MG: There are characteristics that you learn to pick out. But, of course, it takes time. The real difficulty about doing this is that it doesn't just happen instantly. We'll make a picking decision out here [in the vineyard] — but then you've got to go through the fermentation, you've got to barrel it down, you've got to age it, bottle it, and wait a couple of years for the bottle to come around. And then finally, you take that wine and have to remember four years back to that one morning in October when you decided to pick the grapes. That's the sort of connection you need to make; you need to be able to look back that far in order to piece it all together. It's how you formulate a style and have the core character of a vineyard to come through year in and year out. And while the variations that you taste in the different vintages are around that core, the core itself remains the same.
NM: Do you feel that you're approaching, if not fairly certain, of what the core flavor profile is for this vineyard?
MG: Yes. We've seen it very consistently, with only one year, 2005, when we had a bit of an anomaly where it didn't have quite as much of that same character — still there, just to a lesser degree. Basically, it's a core of very lush, juicy red fruit — from raspberries to an almost overripe black cherry (rather than the brighter red cherry you'd get off of Diamond Mountain). And it has a weight and substance that doesn't come from bruising tannin, but rather from…
MG: …well, certainly acidity. The wines are always bright and I think that's what pushes the red fruit forward, the natural acidity that we retain up here.
NM: I'm guessing that the most significant factor driving that acidity is probably the cooling effect you must get up here in the evenings and with the early morning fog.
MG: Definitely so. We get some pretty wide temperature swings up here, which keeps the acidity high and pH low, and allows us to push ripening out a little further than we would otherwise because the flavor profile can remain balanced.
NM: Are you bigger fan, in general, of the fruit grown on mountainsides rather than the valley floor?
MG: Yeah, I am. I've found myself over the years gravitating more and more towards those wines. It's not to say that I don't have favorite that are on the valley floor, too. But it's more engaging, I think, in general, for winemakers. There's more happening, more to think about, more to juggle, more to take into consideration. It keeps it fresher and more challenging.
NM: To some extent, you're making choices in the cellar based on what's going on out here in the vineyards, considering factors like topography, microclimates, overall terroir. With this property and the wines that you're making from them, what are some of the practices that you feel that you absolutely must carry out and will not compromise? Conversely, what are some of the practices on which you feel you have some leeway?