-- Wherein Wes waxes quasi-poetic about Dogs, Dirt and the 2008 Vintage.
Year in the Vineyard, Week #18
July 23-30th, 2009
Dogs, Birds Dirt, Barrels and Overt Commercialism
(Psst…buddy..want to buy some Pinot Noir Futures…?)
Welcome back to ‘Year in the Vineyard’. Week #18 was super busy and exhausting, and we’re all catching up on our sleep after hosting a large event for the Psychiatric Service Dog Society. The nets are going up fast here at the Clos, our new intern arrives tomorrow, the weather is in a cooling pattern and the fruit’s changing color all around the vineyard! I’m beginning to get that vivifying anxiety that my plate is increasingly full, but as long as there’s food in my belly and caffeine in my bloodstream I seem to be getting everything done in time and with proper attention to detail. This week we also tasted through the entire 2008 production with Steve Pepe, Clos Pepe’s owner and Vigneron. At the end of this week’s blog I have also provided some commentary on the dirt here at Clos Pepe as well as how the 2008's are tasting in their last few weeks in barrel.
Service Dog Event: Without cluttering this vineyard and wine blog with too much stuff about the Service Dog event we hosted here last weekend, let me just say that spending four days with 50 mentally ill folks has changed my whole perception of mental illness. What these dogs have done for these special people is amazing. If you are interested in details, allow me to provide a few links. My article and pics on the subject can be found HERE and a three minute video news story from KCOY Fox 11 can be found HERE.
If you know someone who is mentally ill and could benefit from learning about how service dogs mitigate psychiatric disabilities, please direct them to www.psychdog.org . And now back to our regularly scheduled viticulture/enology diatribe.
Nets and the vineyard: The crew’s been putting in big hours getting the nets up over the vineyard rows to exclude birds and other critters from the pinot noir and chardonnay. This is a tough job. One man drives the tractor, one man unrolls the nets from a roll and feeds them over a bar mounted on a tractor-pulled trailer. A third guy on the ground spreads the nets ecvenly over the vine row, so the nets fall evenly on both sides of the canopy. After the nets are all applied, we will adjust the crop load a bit, maybe finish a little weeding, and then the nets will be gathered under the vines, rolled up to close the system, and then tied so birds and squirrels cannot access the clusters. As the fruit changes color the animals instinctually attack the grapes, and they will ignore most other varietals to focus on pinot noir—they’re certainly not dumb. The riper parts of the vineyard are nearing 20-25% veraison, which means about a quarter of the clusters are coloring up. With a cooling trend bringing temps back into the low and mid 70’s for a few weeks, we will see a slower completion of veraison—we expect to drop fruit in about 1-2 weeks that doesn’t color up on the same schedule. As mentioned before, dropping the last of the green fruit guarantees a consistent ripening for the remaining fruit. We also need to get in and do some cluster counts and weights through each section to see exactly what kind of yields we’re to expect.
Our new 2009 intern, Jackson Brooke of Australia, is set to arrive on Friday the 31st to help us get ready for a big All-Star Allocation Barrel Tasting this weekend. He will be in charge of cluster counts and weights, running the crew to drop fruit, and will assist in all aspects of fruit sampling, testing, harvest and winemaking this year. We’re excited to have an intern with as much passion and experience as Jackson. He’s been working in the L.A. area as a distiller, and I may ask for his assistance in producing a small amount of spirits at the end of harvest. Grappa? Whiskey? Who knows!
I gave the vines a week off from watering this week, and we plan to do a large and deep irrigation next week to prepare for a little more heat that’s expected in the middle of August.
2008 Wines at Clos Pepe: It’s always a little nerve racking going through each barrel of wine blind with your boss at the end of elevage, or barrel aging. Each wine we bottle represents two years of my professional life, one year to grow the grapes, and one year to watch the wine mature in barrel. With such a tiny production, one bad wine could end my tenure here at the Clos, so the crafting of these wines is one of the most important things I do. By providence or skill, the 2008’s are showing beautifully in barrel, and I expect them to impress as we offer the first organized tasting of these wines to our best customers this Saturday. Traditionally we sell between 25%-40% of our entire production as Futures, and most of those sales occur on the first day sales are opened. I would be missing an opportunity if I didn’t suggest to readers of this blog to check out the Clos Pepe Store: (shop.clospepe.com) this Saturday and get a great deal on 2008 Clos Pepe Estate Futures. With such a small yield in 2008 (only a third of our normal production), the wines won’t last long. The quality is very good throughout the cellar, and I think my job is safe for another year.
Here’s my notes on the wines from this week’s barrel-by-barrel evaluation:
2008 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir: Tasted/Blended 7/28/09: The 2008 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir has been a pleasure to follow in barrel. The wine is amazingly structured and mineral-laden even in its youth--bright, elegant and packed with character.
It reminds me of a young, red Puligny Montrachet --filled with mineral pedigree, fruity and fresh, but showing a lot more verve and earth than I'm used to in such a young wine. The wine has a smooth cherry and vanilla entry, good stuffing, but a finish that is more about terroir than concentration. After finishing tasting each barrel and blend, I am extremely excited about the ability of this wine to integrate with food and show off the dirt and climate of Clos Pepe.
This vintage may be ready for table a little earlier. the smallest production in our history at only 300 cases. Yield was about .5 tons per acre which provides a good core of balanced pinot flavor.
2008 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir, 'Vigneron Select':
Tasted/Blended 8/26/09: The 2008 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir 'Vigneron Select' is a wine chosen and blended by 'Vigneron' Steve Pepe and the rest of our winemaking team as a 'friends and family' style reserve wine. A blend of our favorite barrels from each of the clonal selections (667, 115 and 777), the wine shows a little extra French Oak in its youth and is always a fantastic candidate for a long rest in the cellar.
The 2008 'VS' is a 70 case production, and the blend was chosen unanimously by Steve Pepe and co-winemaker Chanda Hagen. They both pegged the same three barrels for the blend, and after tasting their blend, we all agreed it was wonderful. Dark garnet in color, the 2008 VS shows nice black cherry and baking spice in the nose. It's rich, broad and surprisingly structured--solid grip and acidity guarantee a long cellar life, and the mineral complexity is amazing for such a young wine. Certainly the most Bungundian-styled vintage of VS pinot noir we've produced.
2008 Clos Pepe Estate Chardonnay:
Tasted 8/26/09: Nose shows hazelnut, green apple, pear, loamy mineral--almost as much Cote de Beaune as Chablis--more ML character than barrel-- In the mouth it's not buttery or soft, instead proud , structured and focused on minerals and acidity. Rich mouthfeel with good stuffing and intensity, but a very loamy structure filled with perky acid, pebbly minerals and firm acidity. Throw it blind into a tasting of French Chablis or White Burgundies, and you'll see why we're so proud of the 2008!" -WDH
2008 Axis Mundi Syrah, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard:
The 2008 Axis Mundi is the first wine released under our new second label. The brand is focused on single vineyard wines from exciting regions, crafted with care and priced to be consumed with glee on a daily basis. In discussing this brand we said, "Let's make a $40 syrah and price it at $25. (Futures price: $19!!)"
Tasted 8.26: "The wine has a lovely, saturated purple color, wonderful and heady aromatics of black berry fruit, spice, TONS of white blossomy floral aromatics (orange blossoms?), and is seductive yet structured with wonderful cool-climate syrah acidity and grip. Effusive, seductive, rich and screams cool climate."-WDH It should likely improve with 2-5 years of cellaring, but can be enjoyed right from the bottle at release.
Dirt at the Clos: Someone joked last week on my Facebook page that they enjoyed my writing enough that I could write about dirt and they would still read the blog. To show that I do take requests (tip your waiter and try the veal—I’ll be here all week!), I will give a short description of the soils at Clos Pepe and how they influence the wine’s character. Those that don’t like my writing enough to read about dirt are more than welcome to skip through.
With pinot noir (and to lesser extent chardonnay), quality starts with dirt. In my studies I’ve noticed one thing that seems to occur in almost all great pinot noir vineyards—there is soil with fairly poor nutritional status and has some porous, white stone that absorbs water when it’s wet and gives off moisture when its dry. That same soil usually is calcium or silica-based, which allows the vines to use the calcium to thicken the grape skins, which increases flavor, complexity, and allows the potential for a mineral quality in the wine. There are three soil types here at Clos Pepe—two that are perfectly suited for pinot noir, and one that’s better suited to Chardonnay.
All three soil series are fairly shallow, about 2 to 3 feet deep before changing into a clay subsoil. The clay keeps some of the water available at root level—if the sand were deeper the water would likely drain too fast for the vines’ use.
The Tierra Sandy Loam soil series is a loamy sand with only small amounts of clay. It is the ‘richest’ soil on the vineyard and occurs only on our upper hillside section.
The Elder Sandy Loam series is similar to the Tierra Sandy Loam, but is sandier and lighter, with less clay and slightly less vigor (as expressed by vine growth). The deepest Elder Sandy Loam is in sections where we planted chardonnay, which is a bit more naturally vigorous than pinot noir.
We also have a bit of River Sand here at Clos Pepe; deep, pure sand where we have chosen not to grow any grapevines or olive trees. While vines or trees would grow there, there is a serious threat from flooding and soil movement, and it’s a very nice pasture for our sheep. If the sheep continue to graze and fertilize, the lower pasture may develop enough organic material to support another small vineyard or orchard (Riesling anyone?) within our lifetimes.
Clos Pepe basics: There are 25 acres of pinot noir here at Clos Pepe and 4 acres of Chardonnay. We keep about 25% of the vineyard for our Estate wines, and sell fruit to ten different wineries around California. The list of our producers is a who’s who of top shelf CA pinot producers: Arcadian, Brewer-Clifton, Loring, Siduri, Diatom, AP Vin, Tyler, Copain, Roessler and Ken Brown.
Thanks again for making it through another episode of Year in the Vineyard. I’ll keep the 2009’s on track for greatness, the 2008’s on track for bottling, and the Aussie intern bruised and dirty. Feel free to leave feedback on the blog at my Facebook page. I do try to answer every question and take requests for future subjects. If you don’t get enough of my fits of scribbled cognition, feel free to follow me on Twitter, either as weshagen (stuff about me, wine and the world), staritahills (strictly info about the area) or clospepe (info about the vineyard and what we’re doing).