Friday, March 5, 2010

Cerro Prieto: Out goes 2009, in comes 2010/ Ecologic Redux

Yeah, yeah, I know the year changed over some seven plus weeks ago, and we finally put 2009 to bed well before year's end. This spectacular sunset over the vineyard attests to that, but 2010 really never starts for us until a)bottling is done, and b) until pruning starts. Heck, looking around, it looks like we have been asleep at the switch, or lazy even, in that we have weeds everywhere except at the base of vines, which we sprayed with a systemic contactant, Roundup. No pre-emergent herbicide, which stays in the soil and undoubtedly ends up in our water supply, is used here. Result? Well, it looks as if the vineyard is a bit unkempt, a bit shaggy, as it were. Yet in spite of the weeds we know for certain that we still have our topsoil, which would be in the Salinas River at present, were it not for foregoing early pre-emergent herbicides in late December.

So, before the year started we knew we would once again tolerate more weeds, but would also not contribute to polluting our ground water with pre-emergents. We could have sprayed Roundup, (which is absorbed by the weeds, and then kills them systemically), but had we done that early on, el Nino rains would have ruined a substantial amount of our severely steep hillside rows, washing out stretches of 50 to 100 feet or more, per row. I already know the cost of rebuilding a 50 ft. section of eroded row, and at $1000/ 50 feet of destroyed row space, one can burn $10,000 in quick order. Hence the last thing we did before shutting down in 2009 and truly calling it a year, was to seed and place hay over the obvious erosion prone rows, and pray for light, gentle, farmer's rain. For flatlanders, that means steeply inclined hillsides/mountainsides will wash away seeds, even with overlying hay, if we get early gullywashers instead of nice, gentle farmer rains. The farmer rains prevailed, so our susceptible steep sidehills were safe. Interesting, isn't it, how the last thing of one year, and the first thing of the next, both involve ecologic issues: conserving soil and not polluting our groundwater. Those of you who follow my vineyard/wine blog will recognize parts of previous blogs on Cerro Prieto and "going green", or rather, doing our best to see to it that our land, our water, is in better shape when we leave it, than when we first arrived. Also as noted above, there are serious cost concerns, and no one will doubt that failing to protect for erosion can eat up any and all profits a vineyard might generate.

Ecologic considerations aside, we are late bottling(should have been in January), and most other vineyards have already been pruned. The bottling was unavoidable due to yet another two back surgeries(this one will work), and as for pruning, we always are the last to prune, due to the susceptibility of our valley vineyard to freeze late into the spring. Late May the valley vineyard and our Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc can get hit with a late frost, so we have found by experimentation that delayed pruning pushes back our bud break date, and sometimes, a week, maybe even a few days delay can make the difference between frozen buds and living ones. As for bottling, it is scheduled for March 23rd, and I cannot wait.

The 2007 Paso Bordo has a tremendous bouquet, a touch more oak than 2006(altho both were on 1/3 new French oak 27 months), and flavors that bend the mind...not to mention treat the palate. 2007 Cerro Prieto Merlot is different from our 2006 which won two International Gold Medals, but that is because of blending in just a dash of Cab(12%) and a hint of Syrah(6%). I cannot compare the two years of Merlot, because they are of different makeups. What I can say is, that the Merlot which quickly sold out early last year is even better this year. Standing alone the Merlot was superb. With a small addition of our Cab and Syrah, it is amazing how many more wonderful flavors are detected by the palate. Bottling in late March means that we won't be able to sell either wine until June, so our fans are just going to have to settle for our 92 point Paso Bordo, which hopefully will last until June. As we get closer to June, we will probably have to limit the number of '06 bottles we can sell to our fans and wine club members, but that is a problem for another day. Barrel tasting our '07s has really made me wish we had gotten our bottling done, but as the Gaelic saying goes, "Wyrd bio ful aeread" can't change fate.
As of this morning we are officially starting to prune, but this is really just the vines that got shellacked last year in the May 21st heatspike which hit 117 degrees...and set roughly an acre of grafts and new vines back about 6 months. Unfortunately, those vines are scattered thruout our valley vineyard, altho I have no to why we had skip areas of vine "cookage", when the whole dang "cold" valley was 117. Ah, well, such are the vagaries of farming...grape farming.

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