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JC: Oh, absolutely! But it's not only that they last longer — though it's nice to know that if you have a ten year old wine made from mountain fruit then it's going to be in good shape, while maybe one from the valley floor will likely be past its prime. Taking the idea that if you build a formula for making your wine, and the tannins and acid backbone from the mountain fruit allow you to add more time to that formula, my belief is that it will reach a higher peak than a wine that's at its best right at the time of release. Not only do mountain wines themselves have greater longevity, but the complexity you get from aging (which younger wines don't have) is an additional benefit. And you can only add that more time if the wines are structured.
These wines tend to be for the kind of person looking to collect and then enjoy wines at their peak. To give you an idea, the Bordelais model is a good one to look at. Those wines are tight at release, age beautifully, gradually open up, and then become much more magnificent as they put on more years. Wines made from mountain fruit are very much the same way. If you're going to build a cellar, these are the kinds of wines you want to put in it. Now, Diamond Mountain has always been given that benediction; with Diamond Creek's wines, nobody expects to pop a cork on one of those right at release, thinking they've got the world's best wine. Spring Mountain has a very similar concept — we're all on the same ridge, it's all Mayacamas (Mount Veeder, Spring Mountain, Diamond Mountain). I do think our wines are a little less rustic than those of Diamond Mountain, at least historically; we have a tendency towards tannins that come into resolution a bit more quickly. But the fruit intensity — because of the concentration from the low amount of yield coming off the vineyards — I think is something that's consistent all along the ridge. However, they are harder to make; the fruit is much more difficult to grow and there's less tonnage coming out of the vineyards.
A Patchwork of Diversity: Developing Wines in the Vineyards
NM: Focusing on these vineyards, Ron, how would you describe the approach that you take in managing them to really maximize that flavor intensity in the resulting wines?
RR: What we're trying to do here is have the vines in perfect balance between the canopy and the cropload. When a vine isn't in good balance, some degree of flavor characteristics are going to suffer. So we aim to strike a good balance. If you grow grapes on the valley floor and have fifty pounds of fruit on a single plant, you've got to have an awful lot of canopy to support that cropload. On some blocks, you can do that, but balance is the key to achieving top quality — on any grapevine.
NM: Jac mentioned that the fruit is more difficult to grow. What are some of the challenges to farming on this mountain in general? And what are some of the difficulties you face specifically on this property that you feel are unique, as compared to other wine producers neighboring you on Spring Mountain?
RR: I think we all share a common challenge up here on Spring Mountain, and that applies to hillside farming in general: it's much more difficult to farm up here than on the valley floor. There's no question about that. There's danger factors, like with rolling equipment over. There's also erosion issues; a heavy rainfall can take out a vineyard and turn it into a mess in one single night. But comparing us to our neighbors, first off, our respective soil types are very different. Plus, I know that on top of Spring Mountain, there's more of a plateau so they have deeper soils up there than we do…
JC: The thing that's become vastly apparent to me is that, unlike all of our neighbors who have their vineyards at the very top, we have ours on the side of the mountain. We're everything from the bottom of Spring Mountain District to about three-quarters of the way up the mountain. And so, we have the most sloped vineyards in the district, which gives us the greatest difficulties in managing them: the soil is much thinner here because the rainwater rolls off the top of the mountain and heads downhill, taking our soil with it. And since it's been doing that for thousands of years, there's not that much soil left — that's our big challenge. Because when there's no soil, there's no water-holding capacity; even if you irrigate, the water runs right through it all and doesn't stay for long. All of our neighbors, on the other hand, are on the ridge-top where the soils are much deeper, so they have no water problems like we do here. That being said, this also give us some benefits. What do we reap from this challenge? I frankly think that our fruit has much more intensity, in general. It does take a little more time to ripen, but when it does, it's gorgeous!