Filed under: Vineyards | Tags: Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2010, Burgundy, Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard
We have good news for our Wentzel Vineyard fans, Waits-Mast Family Cellars will make pinot noir with this wonderful vineyard once again in 2010. We are only allotted a small amount, but we’re happy to have the chance to make wine with this special fruit.
Our first commercial vintage was made with Wentzel pinot noir fruit in 2007, and it made quite a splash when it was named one of the top 100 wines of 2009 by the San Francisco Chronicle. So we were eager to have the opportunity to make wine with this vineyard again.
We visited Roland Wentzel this month to check on the progress of the pinot noir this growing season. We will be harvesting grapes from a small block that Roland refers to as “the clos.” Much like the small amount of land divided up amongst winegrowers in Burgundy, France, this block is unique and site-specific. It’s a tiny block –less than an acre – that consists of vines transplanted three years ago from a lower block that had poorly drained soil that promoted excessive vine vigor. The block has a south-west orientation, terraced up a steep hillside, so the grapes benefit from the long afternoon sunlight.
Helping to moderate that heat from the afternoon sun is the gap in the hills to the west which allows ocean breezes to blow inland towards the hill where the clos sits.
It is roughly 900 feet in elevation, which means it doesn’t get a lot of the low-lying valley fog; experiencing it only when the entire valley is fogged in. The vineyard is surrounded by towering pines, and not too far away are large, old-growth redwoods that feel like they are standing watch over the landscape.
When touring the Wentzel vineyard, one is reminded of other winegrowing practices from Burgundy. Another similarity to Burgundy is the concept of a “field blend.” Unlike in North America where pinot noir blocks are typically divided up by specific clones, in Burgundy a single block may have multiple clones, even within the same row. This is of interest because with clone-designate blocks, you can harvest an earlier-ripening clone before a late-ripening clone efficiently, because you are harvesting separate blocks at a time. It would be inefficient to go in and harvest row by row and pick only the ripe berries, then to return to the same row and pick again a week later.
This means that you may get a mixture of under-ripe, ripe and over-ripe grapes. In the end, it can serve to balance out the wine in the winemaking process. And with a good mixture of clones, you can gain flavor components of each clone. The clos at Wentzel Vineyard has Dijon clones 114, 115, 667 and 777 – all within a block that is less than an acre.
When we visited the vineyard on September 11, 2010, we were happy to see that the grapes are coming along quite well, despite the slow, cool growing season this year. Additionally, we saw minimal damage from the August heat spike, during which temperatures reached over 100 degrees. Clusters are nice and small to medium-sized and tightly-packed with small-medium berries. Right now, most of the berries are showing some nice sweetness and tartness.
Beyond all of these statistics and technical details, what really makes this little vineyard special is the care taken by its owners in fostering this magical place in the hills. Roland and his wife Barbara live on this wonderful 300+ acre forested property, living mostly off the land with lush vegetable and herb gardens, fruit trees, sheep, ducks, chickens and more. It is an idyllic, welcoming haven tucked away in the hillsides of Anderson Valley and Roland and Barbara are passionate caretakers of the land.
As we move into building more long-term relationships with grape growers, it’s important for us to learn more about the people behind the fruit and how their philosophies blend with our own wine-making goals. Walking the fields, making note of all of the stats, sampling the fruit on the vine, and tasting other wines from the vineyard all enter into the equation; but as in any creative pursuit, gut instinct and the feeling that one gets from meeting someone and seeing their land are critical pieces of the decision-making process.
After a magical weekend of not only seeing the vineyard, but also chatting with Roland and Barbara Wentzel, and exploring the nooks and crannies of their property (from digging through their worm farm to picking fresh strawberries for our breakfast), we’re even more thrilled to be working with them again this year.
Harvest at the Wentzel Vineyard is expected to be in early to mid October and we can hardly wait to get the fruit into our winery in San Francisco and get to work. Keep an eye out for other vineyard profiles through this month and next as we lead up to harvest and crush.
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