Planting For The Future & Walking Back Through Time
Posted By : Chris Corley
When I was a kid (well at least when I was a younger one than the one I am now), I used to like going to the vineyard with my dad. We lived in St. Helena and the vineyards are just north of Napa, so there was always a little bit of drive to get there. Back then, the drive from St. Helena to Napa kind of seemed like a big deal and the eucalyptus trees along Highway 29 just south of Yountville were always a marker for me for some reason that would only make sense to a kid riding along with his dad.
Back then the vines seemed huge to me, and indeed they were. Grown in the old school California sprawl, the shoots were incredibly vigorous and created a tangle of huge leaves and tendrils that would stretch across the wide rows and intertwine with each other. The strength of those tendriled bonds was undeniable, and it could be a challenge for a kid to work his way through a tangled row.
Most vineyards don’t look like that anymore. They’re much neater, more manicured and tended to with perhaps more precision and the increased knowledge that comes with each additional footprint in the field. I’ve got to say though that I personally have a nostalgic nod towards those old school fields. We grew up around and in them as kids, at least until we got our drivers licenses and our range increased dramatically. Its sort of like looking back at your old pictures and enjoying all the fond memories of the long hair and goofy clothes you used to wear … even though the memories are great, you don’t necessarily want to do it again.
This year, we’re replanting two of our best sites at the front of the property, Blocks I and II. Block I has produced some fantastic Chardonnays over the years. Planted to a clone we refer to as our ‘Heirloom Clone’, which we believe traces its lineage back to the old Wente Borthers selections, the wines had a wonderful balance of ripe fruit, vibrant acidity and a unique musque characteristic that was appealing. As wonderful as the wines were, the block eventually succumbed to a couple of maladies, and replanting became the primary option. We’ll be replanting this block with Dijon Clone 96, a selection that we have had great success with as well on other parts of the property, and we look forward to many years ahead of wonderful Chardonnays again out of Block I.
We are also replanting a portion of Block II, on the northwest corner of the property. In recent years we have been growing Cabernet Franc in this block with great results. We’ve been very happy with the full dark berry flavors, slight nod of pepper and rich firm tannins that we’ve extracted from these grapes. We’re looking forward to the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon in this block. This will be the first Cabernet Sauvignon we’ve grown on the property in decades. When our dad was first transitioning these fields from the previous owners old prune orchard into vineyard land, he had planted some Cabernet Sauvignon in this very block. Convinced by others that it would be too cool to grow great Cab Sauv there, he moved our Cabernet production to the warmer regions upvalley. With the planting of this new block of Cabernet Sauvignon in the same block he had chosen some 30 years ago, he feels somewhat vindicated in that early instinct, and we couldn’t be more excited about what we’re anticipating coming out this block. We’ve chosen Clone 4 Cabernet Sauvignon for this section and are confident that within the next 4-5 years, we’ll be producing a vineyard designated Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon to join our three other vineyard designated Cabs from Yountville, Rutherford and St. Helena.
Ironically, I still trudge through the vineyard just like I did when I was a kid. Although then the vines were a tangled jungle taller than me. Now they are a manicured wall of organized shoots. Then the clusters jumbled and hung wherever they wanted (I think this is where the word ‘clusterfuck’ originated!). Now they are neatly positioned along the fruiting wire. Then, like now, we grew grapes and made wine the best way we knew how. Then, like now, we were in awe of this wonderful process. Then we had long hair and the vines were wild-maned. Now we’re trimmed up a bit, and the vines are more manicured. Inside though, its still the same. I still feel like that little kid in the vineyard …