Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bordeaux comes to Cerro Prieto

Obviously, that is physically impossible, but two of its nicest and loveliest residents did come for a 4 day stay...my Aunt Jackie and cousin Josieane. Both were in the US to visit the Stanton family, strung out from Fort Worth to Austin, then Sacramento, and finally Paso Robles. The visit reminded me of my delightfully memorable first trip to Bordeaux, when our Bordeaux family hosted a fascinating trip throughout the entire heart of France's wine country. That was 30 yrs ago, and at the time, I merely liked wine, but had nowhere near the appreciation for it that I do now. The Rochard's live in a chateaux/bakery, which was built in the late 1700's, and was idyllic. Dinners of standard French fare were served which equated to the best 7 meals in my life. Wines, fine wines, were served at lunch and dinner, and altho I had trouble distinguishing labels of what we drank, the wines were...well, fabulous. The chateaux itself had walls 22 inches thick, which in warm months kept the interior comfortably cool. The wines actually were brought home in a 20 liter bottle, which had been siphoned from barrels in one of the many nearby underground caves. I was amazed to realize that many of the local citizenry routinely obtained their wines that way.

My aunt and grandma took me on tours of all the famous nearby chateaux, and I was privileged to meet some of Bordeaux's many superb winemakers, most of whom were family friends of Jackie, Robert, and grandma. At the time it was a spectacular trip, but, I was going full bore in my medical practice, and was vastly undereducated for such a fascinating experience. Now, that sounds like a trip of a lifetime, and my wife and I have been invited to do it all over again, this time experiencing it from the eyes of someone in the grape and wine business. We do many things at Cerro Prieto that are similar in France, namely utilize world class terroir, low yields for our grapes, and loving, hand care of the vines. One thing in particular stood out as different in the two countries, and that is how much the government interjects itself into the wine business. Here we irrigate; there they don't, but they also do get summer rains. They typically make wines with lower alcohol content, whereas in our vineyard, if we do that we miss out on all the wonderful flavors that come with ultra long hang times. Granted the alcohol level creeps up as we wait for flavors to come in, but if we were able to get the magnificent flavors early on, our wines would be of lower alcohol also.

Both Jackie and Josiane liked our wines, especially the blend of Paso Bordo, which would not be found in France within a Bordeaux domaine. Why? Because our 92 point 2006 Paso Bordo(85% Cab/15% Syrah), is a Bordeaux/Rhone, and that is a no-no in France, both in the Rhone River valley as well as in Bordeaux. This is no secret, but the American winemakers have essentially all the latitude we need to mix and match not only Cab with Syrah, but Syrah with Pinot Noir, Merlot with Syrah, as well as the traditional Cab/Merlot/Cab Franc/ Petit Verdot. Paso Robles has been noted by wine critic Steve Heimoff (Oct, 2009, Wine Entusiast) as home of the big, bold, red blends, and both Jackie and Josiane liked the blends we served. It seems strange that the government would restrict what French winemakers can do re: blending as well as certain viticultural practices, but France has been making great wines for centuries, and their rules and regulations go back at least several hundred years. I wouldn't be surprised to see that change one day, but no time in the foreseeable future.

As for the vineyard, currently we are at August 3rd, and still no sign of verasion...which last year was well underway by JULY 3rd. That is bizarre, but is certainly in keeping with our lovely spring days of mid to high 70's and lows in the low 40's. Unfortunately we are rapidly approaching fall, and to have spring weather now is blatantly weird. Oh, that isn't quite true...last nite I saw 3 berries beginning verasion in our cold valley Pinot and Sauv Blanc. This is either going to be a late harvest, hopefully not too late, or we are going to race thru verasion like a race horse. There are mumbles of worry from many neighbors, all of us wondering when is the hot weather coming. Since we are both in the southern end of the Paso AVA and also the north face of the Templeton Gap, the coastal marine air (known to Mexican workers as "brisa"), we are some 18-20 degrees cooler than downtown Paso Robles which is just 4 miles west-north-west of us. Nonetheless, while the days are perfect to enjoy the great outdoors, for ripening grapes...it be cold... truly, unseasonably cold. As producers of low yield grapes, 2-2.5 Tons/acre, we are well positioned to ripen our grapes, as opposed to higher yielding vineyards, with yields 5 Tons/ acre...or more. Still and all, we growers are beginning to worry, altho there still is plenty of time. We do need for verasion to get in gear, however.

As for all the "behinder" vineyard chores mentioned in the last blog, those are now done, only to be replaced by yet another list, in which we are once again 3-4 weeks behind. One thing of note, and this is ugly. We have had to net our early ripening grapes because the small songbirds, (finches, juncos), wrens, sparrows, Robins, Mountain Blue Jays, Western Blue Jays, plus the grape stealing kings, grackles, have started eating bitterly green grapes, with a voracious appetite. Normally we would just use bird distress calls, kites, and windmills to scare away birds, but not this year. When the Cab and Merlot start to ripen there will be hundreds of other acres nearby where they can eat. Right now, anyone who has grapes beginning or in verasion, definitely has a bird problem... unusual, because generally grape eaters wait for grapes to develop sugar. As they say, just another day in the vineyard...or paradise, if you will, but we all are starting to have some concerns re: our spring in summer.

As a postscript, writer and blogger Randy Fuller of Now and Zin, wrote a very nice article about Cerro Prieto last week, and I would highly recommend it to all who follow our blog. (http://www.blog.nowandzin.com/)


  1. Good read... This is the correct url -

  2. Nice entry, Larry! Sounds like a wonderful time with your guests.

    I noticed the link didn't work, so here's the article from the Now And Zin Wine Blog: http://blog.nowandzin.com/2010/07/29/cerro-prieto-vineyard-and-cellars.aspx