Friday, July 1, 2011

There's Gold in Them There Hills/ Bomb damage assessment

No doubt about it, the title is an odd juxtaposition...but, that being said, here is a quick catch-up since last blog of "Colder, coldest, Most awfulest coldest". Just a few days ago we were awarded the Los Angeles Intl Gold Medal for our 2007 Cabernet (Paso Bordo), at the LA Intl Wine competition. We also were awarded 91 pts for the Cab. With that preface, I would like to summarize our 4 wines produced to date:

2006 Merlot   Intl Gold medal San Diego Intl Wine Comp/ Intl Gold medal Critics Challenge Intl
                      ( first competition was 3300 entries, and second was 2900)
2006 Paso Bordo (Cab/Syrah)    92 pts Wine Enthusiast

2007 Merlot   91 pts  Wine Enthusiast

2007 Cabernet (Paso Bordo)   LA Intl Gold Medal and 91 pts.

To summarize, of our 4 wines produced to date, all have either been rated 91/92 pts , Intl Gold medals, or both. I don't keep track of other wineries' track records, but I have a feeling this is probably a pretty good start for Cerro Prieto. I emphasize Cerro Prieto, because whereas I would like to be one of the premier winemakers, I am truly just very middling. The vineyard, however, is another story. It is truly a world class vineyard, given love and care, thought and hardwork, and most important of all, some of the best terroir in the entire world for growing grapes. For those who may be recent readers, or maybe some have forgotten, terroir is the sum of the climate (we have 60-70 degree temp swings day/nite), the southern exposure, and most importantly, solid limestone soil, and much of it is mountainous. That is the terroir, that other vineyards and wineries would desperately love to have. All the above are what go into world class premium wines. There is one last factor, tho, and that is a low yield mentality, which means going for low yields on the grapevine, and concentrating flavors that produce room filling bouquets...both of which Cerro Prieto wines are famous for. Lower yields mean more air and sunlight around each grape cluster, less chance for mildew or molds, and overall a more thorough and complete ripening of each and every grape. Put that all together, don't mess up in the winery( the secret to pollution is, cleanliness is next to Godliness.), and with the world's best grapes, it should not be surprising that Cerro Prieto has continued to put out world class wines. Obviously when it comes to blending, that is a trait to be learned, maybe inheirited, but if you have a good nose for wine and can be discerning re: what is missing... or in abundance... or not quite right....and then be able to alter or correct them, then you can make superb wines. As I have said many times before: Our wines are made in the vineyard...and we have a truly great one. There IS gold in them there hills.

Okay, enough of the Gold what is the bomb damage about? Well, in a nutshell, it is an array of mishaps, misfortunes and in some cases disasters that can befall a vineyard, even one managed to perfection. After last blog's reference to the coldness we experienced, we then managed to complicate matters with more weather disasters of epic proportion. Keep in mind here, with all the tornado, fire, hurricane, and tsunami natural disasters, when speaking of disasters in the vineyard we are speaking of disasters of much less exponential severity than those that have ravaged the US and the world as of late. In the vineyard, a disaster is a rain, a heavy rain, falling on grapes in bloom. Usually, that is the kiss of death for those grapes if they get rained on during bloom. When that occurs, the vineyard loses its crop. It happened to a number of Pinot vineyards, both here and elsewhere, and it all depended on exactly where the grapes were in bloom...were they in mid bloom, had they just entered bloom, or was the rain just post bloom. Obviously, mid bloom is the worst, and a number of Pinot growers up and down California had this, too. But here exactly, in Cerro Prieto, it was a slightly different story.

We usually have 13 major microclimates, and the mountainous blocs have 2 or even 3 sub microclimates within the majors. Consequently, we had vastly different temperatures within various blocs, and this caused delaying of bloom in some blocs, and acceleration in others. Regardless of what happened, the result was that we do have a lesser tonnage of crop in our Cab and Syrah blocs, but we will have a spectacular harvest nonetheless. Merlot, which is part mountain, part hillside, still has yet to finish bloom...some 2 mos. late. Wow! The cold valley vineyard was obviously put on hold by the weather, and severe as the cold was, the bloom was just delayed thru 3 rains and 2 hailstorms in May and into June...both are incredibly bizarre, and fit no previous weather data. The longer canes got hit with severe frost, died back, but the new growth is healthy and we miraculoulsly got thru bloom with a very nice fruit set. Same for Sauv Blanc, but it may have gotten touched up a bit more. In summary, not only do we have world class terroir, we have world class luck. How we could have survived all these potentially crop killing insults is a mystery. If anything I would attribute it to our mountains, and secondly, to our multiple microclimates, and all that entails... I would not rule out a bit of divine intervention also, but then again, who knows?

While bomb damage assessment is hyperbole, at this time one month ago, I was so despondent that I couldn't even go out and assess the damage. As luck would have it, we escaped the worst springtime happenings ever w/r/to bloom and fruit set...and just keep on ticking. Yes, it is a less heavy crop, but that is our mantra anyway...low yields. So, if you were concerned about Cerro Prieto and no fruit this yr, rest assured we have plenty...and it will be top notch. During the last 3 days I have taken a careful inventory and am delighted to find we came thru so well. Believe me, it certainly could have been different, and frankly, I just couldn't bring myself to go thru the vineyard until we had 3 days in the 100s. Incredible. Just incredible. And extremely lucky. Now it is on to adjusting our N, P, and K
(Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) based on the leaf petiole analyses that we have just completed. Not to be unexpected, we are very low in N, primarily due to 52 inches of rain(Normal = 22"). The P and K are mostly within range, except in one bloc, and all will be given the appropriate amount of N, P, K that are needed...some none at all.

Summer is here, the vines are growing 3-6 inches/day, and the vineyard is in great shape. Yes, crop load will be less this yr, but that which is there will be fantasmagorical. Am I excited? Bet your life I am. All is well at Cerro Prieto, but just until the last 3 days when I finally felt I could look, I feared for the worst...and got the best.

Photo Key:

Dark Before the Storm
Lots of Rain = lots of flowers
A rainbow truly was shining on us
World quality vineyard = world quality wines

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