(Another) Year in the Vineyard
Week #21, July 30-August 5, 2010
With Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe
Welcome to the new generation Year in the Vineyard Blog! Last week I bought a High Def Flip camera, and it arrived a few days ago and I got busy! Just so happened that the day I received it we had a meeting of the Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance, and there were some great personalities there that I couldn’t help but ask about the quality of the 2009 vintage of Pinot Noir in the SRH. I managed to get Richard Sanford (Alma Rosa), Norm Yost (Flying Goat), Kathy Joseph (Fiddlehead Cellars) and Brandon Sparks Gilles on camera, and there’s a lot of excitement and unified belief that 2009 is an extraordinary vintage to look forward to. (The wind noise is annoying, and I will keep it out of subsequent videos, but it is the Santa Rita Hills, and that wind makes the wine what it is. Note the jackets and sweaters, even in August.) NOTE: THE VIDEO CAN BE WATCHED IN REGULAR OR HIGH DEFINITION–ONLY THE BEST FOR MY BLOGGIN’ PEEPS.
As far as the video goes, I plan to integrate a little video into the blog each week and make the written part a little shorter and tighter. If you have recommendations, don’t hesitate to write them on my Facebook page (Wes Hagen): ‘We don’t want to see yer ugly mug any more’ is a perfectly reasonable request. Or ‘Get a haircut, hippie’—or ‘You can at least groom yourself for the camera’. If there’s something specific you want on camera, let me know. I plan to get a little video of canopy management, fruit ripening, sheep herding, harvest, French intern, etc.
Meanwhile, in the vineyard, the year tiptoes along. The weather is even cooler this week. After a few days in the mid to high 70’s, the low pressure trof has deepened, giving us foggy, drizzly mornings and windy, cool afternoons. The high temp forecast for the rest of this week is supposed to be about 69-70 degrees. So we continue to fine-tune our canopy management, observe the vineyard for potential issues, continue applying bird netting, we turn on the propane cannon in the early morning and turn it off right as we go to bed (which scares the dogs more than the birds, I think). The fruit is slowly and methodically turning color and softening, and I’d say we may be around 20% veraison at this juncture.
The vines have never really warmed to the point where they appear deep, dark green this vintage. They started a little yellow from the cool, wet soil, and the soil never really warmed up in the way it normally does. So the vines do have a bit of an identity crisis this year—I gave the vines a little extra potassium in July, which I rarely do, as some of the vines seemed to be struggling. Now it appears that the vines in the interior of the vineyard are very healthy, but not vigorous, and a bit jaundiced, but the edges of the vineyard look a bit unhappy, some of them because of compaction and some because of a bit of dust damage. My worry would be that the vines appear that they want to shut down a little early this year, but I may be misinterpreted their hardship during an exceptionally cool season for premature senescence. I also tend to see a lot of the vines driving in and out that are a little beat up from the road dust, the compaction of being close to the road, and the fact that the outer vine rows usually get hit first by birds and squirrels.
In fact, our favorite cluster(s) that I photograph and post each week were attacked by squirrels over the last few days. The nets were up but hadn’t been secured on the bottom (they are secure now) and you can see how draped bird nets do little to keep the hungry rodents out. I had hoped I could photograph those clusters through harvest, but now I will include an adjacent cluster as we progress.
I took a walk this morning through the Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir (Pommard 4 Clone), as Adrien and Tony continue fine tuning some leafing/canopy management in these sections. I was struck by a strong sense of happiness and wonder as I saw the clusters turning pink and purple—the fruit this year is stunningly small and beautiful and I had the first ‘aha’ moment of the season where it all seemed to come together…clean fruit, tiny berries, balanced crop, healthy (but not too vigorous) vines. I’m starting to feel the specialness of 2010—a growing sense that these wines are going to be dark, brooding, masculine, rich and expressive. Some grower-winemakers would be thinking about letting the fruit hang and making the darkest, richest pinot imaginable in a year like this—going for that short-sighted 100-point ‘perfect wine’ that is unusable at table. But for me I’m wondering if I can’t pick a little earlier, getting all of the color and extraction and flavor I need with a little less alcohol and a bit more acidity for long term cellaring. Regardless, the vintage is shaping up to be an epic one, and I’m a bit giddy this morning looking forward.
The Chablis intern, Adrien Gautherin, is settling in and getting some good work in. He’s been out in the field each morning since he arrived, helping with the nets and now working with Tony on fine tuning some leaf pulling and canopy management. Last Thursday we went to the winery with Adrien, Rich Chronkite (San Luis Obispo wine biz and sometimes intern), Kim Smith (Lompoc wine student/intern), Chanda (wife), Steve Pepe (vigneron) and Jeremy Ball (Bottle Branding and Photography by Jeremy) to blind taste every barrel in the cellar and to decide on our 2009 Vigneron Select Blend. Tony, out Lompoc intern, told me yesterday that Adrien may be the best Call of Duty 4 player he’s ever seen–so I’ll put it out to the readership that I’ll put a bottle of wine up to anyone who can take him 2 out of 3 heads-up matches. He plays X-Box 360 by the way, and we can likely hook it up to the ‘net so you don’t have to come here to challenge him.
The 2009’s in barrel were stunning—very balanced, fruity, structured and drinking very well at this stage of their life. It will be a good vintage for extended aging—the stuffing and color is back after a lighter, more ephemeral 2008 Estate wine. The wines will certainly be charming in their youth, but in maturity I expect them to be quite glorious. We went through about a dozen blends of our favorite barrels to come up with a perfect reserve blend—and then we tasted a few more to make sure we hit the best one. It’s a dark, rich, saturated but in no way hot or overripe wine. It will have a little more baby fat to begin with, and a bit more new French oak to integrate in the cellar. I think the 2009’s will be very well received, and it’s nice to have a little more wine to sell than the tiny 2008 production. The pinot barrels in the Clos Pepe Estate program show a wonderful cherry, blackberry and baking spice character with very nice fruit length and a nice core of acidity and minerals that extends the finish into a sense of complexity, harmony and completeness. The wine will be bottled at the end of August and released next February. I’ll remind you to buy some.
Other happenings this week include a meeting of the Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance, and my landing a writing gig with the Sommelier Journal, one of my favorite wine magazines. I’m super excited to be on board with the SJ—the quality and depth of writing is quite refreshing in the world of wine journalism, and they pay their writers accordingly.
Thanks again for reading the blog, and look forward to some more videos coming out, including some on tasting and evaluating wine, blending, filtration and bottling. Don’t forget to watch this week’s video and remember that the wind is part of the ambiance here in the Santa Rita Hills. Have a great week—and remember: the more you drink, the better we feel.