Hilliard Bruce Vineyards – Part 3: Canopy Management, Wines & Philosophy.

Canopy Management

Part 3 of a 4 part series on our trip to Hilliard Bruce in the Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County.

Canopy management that you will see no where else!

The planting style at Hilliard Bruce is compact with 2,420 vines per acre at a spacing of 6 feet by 3 feet.  The canopy management that John is so rightly proud of begins with the trellis system that is vertical shoot positioned.  The vines here are hand pruned twice each year.  Each spring the new shoots are carefully positioned to run parallel and then are individually tied so that they do not cross each other.  They monitor the number of leaves per vine to offer the perfect exposure to sun and so that the air can move through.  This keeps down the mold and disease.  This also allows the bunches to hang free which is helpful for easy harvesting.  All this is lots of work during the growing season, but makes for much less work in the winery.  As we looked down the rows from the top of the vineyard John pointed out how you could see from the shadows that all the vines were healthy.  It’s easy during the day to come out and look at the shadows and see where you have lost a vine. But of course with the kind of attention that these vines get, that is rare.

Fruit of all this labor…amazing wines.

They are  growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here exclusively.  Christine claims the Chardonnay as her own and John’s focus is on the Pinot Noir.  The yield per acre here is less than 2 tons and less than 1.65 lbs per vine.  Next year the new winery will be ready, but this year they will make their wines at the Central Coast Wine Service  facility that is located in Santa Maria.

While there we tasted the 2010 Moon Pinot Noir, the 2011 Earth Pinot Noir and the 2011 Chardonnay.

The Moon Pinot Noir is very much a Sta. Rita Hills style Pinot.  After 12 months in barrel they go through a careful selection process and choose only the barrels that show the concentration and focus that this cool growing region is known for.  They look for riper fruit and full spice as they choose the barrels.

The 2011 Earth Pinot Noir is definitely earthier.  This wine has rich clove spice, darker fruit and minerals as well as great tannins.

The 2011 Chardonnay comes from the coldest corner of the vineyard and these vines produce very little fruit.  With great acid, oak for tempering and a little salinity this is a truly stunning Chardonnay.

The winery is well under way and photos of the progress can be seen on their facebook page.  This will be a LEED Certified, gravity flow winery with an underground cellar that will be humidity controlled. It will be designed as a  work of art, but also to blend and compliment the beautiful natural setting.

Philosophy

There is a quote from Paul Ingersol on the Hilliard Bruce labels that really sums it up

  • Happiness is the only good
  • The time to be happy is now.
  • The place to be happy is here
  • The way to be happy is to make others so.

This is what they embody at Hilliard Bruce.

 

Stay tuned for a video of our visit tomorrow!

Clos Pepe, early morning picking Pinot Noir

Clos Pepe Vineyard

On and early Foggy morning in Santa Barbara, were able to film our first Harvest experience at Clos Pepe Winery.  We were looking for someplace to shoot harvest shots at night or in the morning while in Santa Barbara County. We contacted Morgen, the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association to help in our search.  She guided us to Clos Pepe Winery who was harvesting a small block of Pinot Noir for a Sparkling Wine project for Flying Goat Cellars.  See a little of our adventure in the early morning fog in the video.

We pulled up in the dark in front of Clos Pepe. I texted Morgen, “the gate says no trespassing, should we go in?”  “Yes by all means” she texted, “I’ll be there soon.”  Morgen is the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association and she had sent me a message the day before.  We were looking for someplace to shoot harvest shots at night or in the morning while in Santa Barbara County.  It seemed the Sav Blanc in Happy Canyon was already being harvested and everything else was holding until after labor day.  Morgen had been able to find something and sent a message saying to meet her at 5:45 am at Clos Pepe to harvest for a little sparkling project they were working on.

We pulled through the gates and parked by the house and waited for Morgen.  Michael headed down to get some photos, trying to stay out of the way.  When Morgen arrived she asked if I was going to pick.  This took me a little off guard, I would be happy to, I said, but I had never picked before and didn’t want to be in the way or slow things down.  Nonsense, she said and guided me down to meet Wes Hagen the winemaker at Clos Pepe.  Wes proceeded without hesitation to hand Morgen and I gloves, clippers, a headlamp and a bucket and briefed us on how to harvest.

We were harvesting early in the day beginning in the dark.  This has multiple benefits 1st it’s cooler, this makes those picking happier and the grapes happier.  The grapes will be cooler and firmer and the sugar levels will be lower and more stable.

It was late August, just the beginning of harvest season.  We were harvesting pinot noir. This pinot was at about 20 brix, so lower than a typical Pinot harvest because this Pinot was headed for a sparkling wine project for Norm Yost at Flying Goat Cellars.

In harvesting we were looking for full ripe bunches, but in this harvest we were not skipping unripe fruit.  Any green or pink berries could be knocked off or if the bunch was too green it could simply be dropped.  The idea was to pick the row clean leaving no fruit behind. We were also looking for botrytis.  Botrytis cinerea known as botrytis bunch rot by those in the vineyard, but others in horticulture call it gray mold. This comes in 2 forms: “Grey rot” which is the result of consistent wet or humid conditions and “noble rot” which is when wet conditions are followed by dry.  Noble rot can create beautiful desert wines like Tokaji or Sauternes.  Any botrytis that we found was to be pulled out or dropped.

The harvest team we were on was only setting out to harvest 3 rows of Pinot Noir.  We were hand picking and only looking for around 4 bins of grapes for this sparkling project.  Each of the bins were half ton so we were looking for about 2 tons. Our team was about 15 people and we finished 2 rows in about 2 hours.  It was a good harvest, most of the bunches were evenly ripened and 2 rows filled the 4 bins.

As we picked we made sure to keep our buckets  free of MOG (material other than grapes).  Also the clippers should never hang on the side of the bucket.  If the clippers fall in, they could end up in the bin and then in the crusher, which could ruin a very expensive piece of equipment.

We clipped away, first finding the bunches in the light of our headlamps, then turning the headlamps in as the sun rose to light the vines for us.  The early morning fog misted our hair and the drip irrigation dripped on our knees as we tucked in to find the ripe berries.  I worked what Wes refers to as “my agricultural muscles”.  As I tried to fill my orange bucket, I would periodically turn to find it empty again, as the bucket guys stealthily emptied it without my even knowing.  There was little that was green and only bits of botrytis that I came across.  These were firm tight bunches, sometimes they were wrapped around the vines or wires making it difficult to free them, but all in all it was beautiful fruit.

We worked the rows following the tracker the was hauling the bins.  As the sun came up the large lights on the top of the tracker were turned off.  Two people rode on the sides of the bins, doing a second sort for MOG and Botrytis as the buckets were dumped in.

By the time we reached the end of the row, the bins were full and the sun was up.  We walked back down the rows checking for any missed fruit.  It was my first harvest and while it was only 2 hours and 2 rows, I could not have asked for a better place.  What could be better than picking Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills on a gorgeous morning in late August.  Thank you Wes and Clos Pepe for an amazing experience.

Remember, “Every grape wants to make wine”

See more of Wes in his Blog very informative. Visit Clos Pepe Site

Wines that I can’t forget, part one

Michael and I do quite a bit of wine tasting on our vacations.  As you know if you have read our blog before, we love to visit wineries taste and get the feel of a winery.  Often you can get caught up in the moment (and the wine) and join a club or buy several bottles to take home.  On other occasions if you have flown in and it’s the wrong time of year to have wine shipped, you go home empty handed.  Today I want to explore the wines I remember and still want and maybe some of the why’s to that.  Was it the location, the people, the wine itself or a combination.

I started this by just going through by memory of some of the wines that as we traveled and tasted stood out to me.  Wines that I want to drink again.

Stoller Tempranillo,  Lange Pinot Noir,  Hart Family Vineyards Syrah and Chardonnay,  Argyle Black Brut,  Longoria Lovely Rita,  Grgich Hills Fume Blanc,  Carhartt Pinot Noir,  Tablas Creek Vermentino,  Terry Hogue Syrah,  Vino Robles Petite Sirah,  Lone Madrone The Will,  Veritas Cabernet Franc, Wildhorse Unbridled Bien Nacido Pinot Noir and Trisaetum Riesling.

As you can see the list is long and this is just me quickly running through this in my brain, not going back (as the wine geek in me so desperately wants to) and scanning all the wineries that we have tasted at in all the different areas we have tasted.  You will also note that I didn’t include  years.  I’m trying to keep my list short and I would have to research to remember the years and that would make my list grow!  So we will try to keep this simple. I have a list of 15 wines that off the top of my head I loved and want to drink again.  My list leans toward Syrahs and Pinots and then expands to many different varietals and includes a blend.  So….with a list this long I will break it up into groups of 5 (cause I will want to wax poetic on each and you don’t want to be here reading all day!).

Stoller Tempranillo

Stoller Vineyard Circa 2011 Dundee Hills Oregon

Stoller Vineyard Circa 2011 Dundee Hills Oregon

Stoller is located in the Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  Tempranillo is definitely not the first wine you would think of there.  I was a bit taken about when I heard they grew it right there by the winery.  The climate is much cooler than you would expect for a Tempranillo.  It was enchanting.  Dark and rich and a big contrast to the lighter more delicate Pinot Noirs we had been tasting.  Also my friend Adam was with us and he knew the person doing our tasting.  She was talking about her boyfriends new restaurant that he was opening and telling us about the bee hives they had in the blackberry patch in the middle of the vineyard and the blackberry honey they looked forward to getting.  So….the atmosphere had me pretty enchanted also.  Adam left with 3 bottles of the Tempranillo, so I will have to check with him to see if the wine lives up to the memory I have of it.

View from Lange Winery

Lange Vineyard, Oregon 2011

Lange Pinot Noir

Jack_the_cat_at_Lange

Jack the Vineyard Cat at Lange 2011

This particular Pinot that I remember was a blend of several vineyards and had a smokiness that I love.  I had researched Langebefore going there and was exited to see Jack the cat. He actually greeted us at our car.  There had been a blog post about Jack who they had adopted as a stray and named Jackie, only to find he was really a Jack.  They had won Snooth’s winery of the year distinction earlier that year and I was excited to see the small family winery that I had heard so much about.  They are again in the Dundee Hills.

Hartford Family Syrah and Chardonnay

In my research for our trip to Napa/Sonoma I had come across Hartford Family Vineyards who were doing a fund raiser while we were there for a local food bank.  They were serving an appetizer to pair with their chardonnay and the proceeds from the appetizer would go to the food bank.  Great food and wine pairings and for a charity?  I was in.  So we stopped by on a rainy December day to their beautiful Estate and had the crab cakes paired with their coastal Chardonnay.  The pairing was perfect…the wine seemed to have a slight salinity that spoke to the crab cakes.  I actually tried to order this wine once when I found it on a wine list to pair with seafood, only to have the waiter come back and tell me they were out!  In addition we had a wonderful Syrah that smelled like bacon in the glass.  I was enamored.  One of the guys working in the tasting room was full of fantastic information and was so passionate speaking about the wine…I felt sure that we were looking at a future superstar winemaker.  We did leave with a bottle of the Syrah and I long for more.

Argyle Black Brut

Argyle Winery Dundee Hills Oregon

Argyle Tasting room Dundee Hills Oregon 2011

Michael does not like champagnes or sparkling wines usually.  He says that the effervescence mutes the flavor for him and he has been known to allow a sparkling glass to sit and go flat before tasting it.  Me…I like my bubbles.  So Michael tasted Pinots and Chards and I tasted the bubbly when we got to Argyle.  Argyle has great appeal because Rollin Souls is just so cool!  He is microbiologist who was roomates with Lyle Lovett in college.  The tasting room is lovely with a big wrap around porch and the tasting room staff were down to earth.  When they poured the Black Brut for me I was in heaven.  Think cherry cola elevated to an extreme.  I still dream about this deep dark sparkler.

Longoria Lovely Rita

Longoria Tasting Room

Santa Barbara and the Santa Rita Hills are known for great Pinot Noirs and Longoria makes some of the best.  This tiny tasting room in Los Olivos is in a historic building.  I had read about Richard Longoria in Steve Heimoff’s book, “New Classic Winemakers of California”, so my expectations were high.  I was surprised when I enjoyed the Lovely Rita more than the vineyard designated Pinots.  We left empty handed since we had flown in but this is one wine that is on my list to order and have shipped to me this fall!

Okay….that’s a start.  If you enjoyed this and are interested in the other wines I can’t forget, stay tuned for the next couple of posts!