Monday, June 29, 2015

Cerro Prieto...What Hath We Wrought?

Good gracious, Lordy almighty. For the first time in years, I looked at our vineyard, perhaps for the first time non-critically, and was mesmerized by the beauty that Cerro Prieto vineyard has become. Perhaps it is because we sold 15 of our 20 acres to Heath Vineyards in Fredricksburg, Texas, and I no longer am responsible for every gopher, ground squirrel, or any weak or sickly know, the things you do to ascertain that every moving part of your job, project, invention...or in this case 100% perfect. I am amazed at the difference I note in looking at our vineyard now, as opposed to when we owned, cared for, and oversaw all of it. Somehow, someway, I was never able to sit down or drive by and notice what beauty and joy this vineyard brings. Now, after leasing the remaining 5 acres of vines, I am completely out of the vineyard business, leaving that to a new vineyard manager, Neil Roberts. To say I am anything other than delighted with the way they have taken care of our vineyard, would be untrue. They are doing a spectacular job, which formerly I worried over, fretted over, lost sleep over. I still have rights to make wine the next 5 yrs if I wish...or not.
Road view of Pinot Noir along the road with the Quinientos Cab bloc in background. The vineyard is great...the asphalt road...not so much.

A big part of the sale...and leasing...was not ill health, but joints and parts that have quit working for me. When asked, "Why are you selling your vineyard?", I responded simply, "I am all beat up".
15 back surgeries plus 15 knee surgeries have a tendency to do that to a fellow...not complaining, as there are many folks out there with a lot more problems than I. But unquestionably, physically, I have a 50 year old's heart and a 90 year old's body. Healthwise I am fine, but the legs, foot,  back and knees are not what I would recommend to someone else. Those are used parts, not much good any longer. As for winemaking, which I have been frequently asked about, I still am looking at bottling our 2013 Merlot and Syrah either August or December. All depends if the wines continue to improve weekly or not. If so, no way do I want to get in the way of perfection. To date, they both are getting better, week after week, month after month. If they level out...or plateau...then we bottle. Of course, if that happens to be during crush...Sept to Dec...the winery isn't available for bottling. That is dedicated winemaking time, and all else is put on hold. So, at present, we are waiting on our 2013 Merlot and Syrah to reach a peak and level off. To date, they just keep getting better weekly.

Quinientos bloc of Cab looking from the East, with vines as verdant as healthy as ever. Remember this is into the teeth of a 4 year drought. Good vineyard management plus we used a lot of water to save the vines.

Returning to the vineyard, the vines look greener, healthier, stronger, than they have at any time in the past. Somehow, someway, I managed to miss that while working daily to be sure that each and
every vine was the best it could  Bloom was heavy this yr, way better than most years, but the "springtime" rolling London fog brought its unwanted guest...brutal, 70 to 80 knot winds, which just knocked blooms onto the ground, causing the fruit "set" to be on the light side. From a winemaking standpoint that means a much lower crop, bad for the grower, but a winemaker's dream. If you own the vineyard AND are the vintner, it balances out. Here's an obvious tip: buy all the 2014 wines you can as this will be the 4th consecutive drought year...and best year for W side Paso wines ever. They will be sensational,  as long as the winery has the world class terroir and LOW crop yields, such as we have at Cerro Prieto.

One of my favorite views down the Quinientos bloc of Cab, with Pinot Noir and Sauv Blanc in the flats below.

Summer arrived stealthily this year, sometime around the first of June. The blowing , rolling fog, the highs in the 60s, the frequent 40 mph winds...just kind of petered out...and summer, beautiful summer, eased in. Most days since then have been high 90s to 100s, with a number of those followed by nites in the low 40s to high 30s. We are returning to our normal weather, just a whole lot drier than we have been in years prior to the drought beginning in 2012.

 Last blog in March showed the brilliant green"leaves of three, let them be", or poison oak. This photo shot in early June shows only a few dried stems and virtually all dried up leaves on ground...another indicator of a severe drought in progress. It also portends an early harvest.

Ah, one other thing. It is humid. Really humid....something on the order of Houston in summertime. An hours worth of work turns you into a sweat ball, something foreign to me and the dry climate we have loved since first moving here. The weather is changing, altho I am not one to say this is from global warming. Liberals seem to be convinced this is man made global warming. From where I sit in the cheap seats, the weather is just changing, something readily apparent over a long term when perusing the weather log books of farmers who have been at it for over the last 80 years. So weather changing, si, global warming, no. Although not certain about this, it is possible that the humidtiy, while unpleasant, may be here to stay. Reason? More likely than not, it is from the massive number of acres of grapes we grape growers here in the Paso AVA now have under cultivation. The 8000 acres of new plantings in 2012, just prior to the first year of drought, undoubtedly had a part to play in this, but it is the overall massive number of vines that get drip irrigated that probably accounts for the much higher humidity.

An uphill view of the semicircular Syrah bloc, from the southeast. Prior to terracing, this mountain face was climbable only with tools. Terracing has enabled us to grow awesome Syrah here, but also to keep potential fire weeds down.

A few words about our wines for those who have written and asked. The 2012 Syrah and 2012 Paso Bordo both continue to get better and better each week. However, they still have a way to go to return to barrel quality, the marker I use for bottling. Essentially when the wine in bottle no longer improves from week to week, then they are ready to drink. Altho I thought we would be drinking the '12 Paso Bordo earlier this year, that was a false start. As the weeks went by the flavors began coming in, but the bouquets are lagging. Bouquets as you all know are the sine qua non of our wines, but they do not appear until later. That is what I am waiting on at present. Flavor wise we are close to barrel quality, but bouquet wise, we still have a way to go. Just guessing, I would peg the best time to drink both would be early 2016. Guessing when a wine will be at its best is not an exact science. With the 2012 Paso Bordo I thought it would be a lot earlier than this, but wines have a mind of their own. In this case, later is better.

 June...and already note the prominent lignification (green canes turning woody/brown), indicating this Syrah will be maximally ripe thru and thru, and probably be ready a couple weeks early this year.

On another front, we have been treated exceptionally well by Wine Enthusiast magazine,   which has given our 2009 Merlot 93 points, our 2010 Syrah la Terraza bloc 93 points, and our 2010 Pinot Noir 93 points. To summarize the accolades to date:

2009 Merlot
      San Diego Intl 92 points & Intl Gold medal
      Wine Enthusiast 93 points
2010 Syrah la Terraza bloc
      San Diego Intl 94 pts & Intl PLATINUM medal.
      Wine Enthusiast 93 points
2010 Syrah el Bordo (w/ 7% 2009 Cab in it)
      San Diego Intl 92 points &Intl Gold medal
      Wine Enthusiast 91 points
      San Francisco Chronicle Gold Medal.
2011 Pinot Noir
      San Diego Intl 92 pts and Intl Gold medal
      Wine Enthusiast 93 points.

We have not yet submitted the 2012s for ratings, as they have not yet  returned to barrel quality. As noted above, I anticipate that being early 2016. If sooner, I will let you all know. I think that is it from here, but will just end with how lucky we have been to have been able to build this beautiful vineyard, which then proceeded to exceed all our expectations as to the magnificent wines it produced. To live amongst the vines, yet not have to care for them 365 days/year, is another thing entirely. Whereas I appreciated the beauty before, that is way more so now. No time off in 16 years really never bothered me. Now, however, if my knees and back permit, Teresa and I may very well be exploring and fishing the Amazon rather than doing gopher control (or weeding or pruning) in the vineyard. I will let you all know about the fall shipment when November gets closer, but almost certainly, the 3 wines will not need to be laid down, and all should have at least 2 International Gold medals or a pair of 93 points ratings in their resumes.

 Note the already huge 6" clusters, which means 12-16" at harvest and a weight of over a pound at harvest. Remember, this is into the teeth of 4 drought years.

With respect to the title, "What Hath We Wrought?"...a simple, sheer, eye catching beauty,  which has produced only International Gold medal winning wines or SF Chronicle Gold medals, or 90-94 pt wines at San Diego International competitions...We will continue to do that into the near future, providing our incredibly loyal wine club members with truly remarkable wines. Not many wine clubs provide their members with this kind quality...however, the best wine club members anywhere deserve nothing but the best.

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