Ultra-Premium?

Posted in Comment Inspired!, Site and profile on September 19, 2012 by projectvee2012

 I had to take a little more time to present this post because I received two questions in comments from my Uncle Brian and Aunt Terry that I wanted to discuss in a 2 part post.   I couldn’t limit my answers to just a few sentences, and I wanted to make sure everyone involved had a chance to read and comment.

(part 1) From Terry:   Is the soil you have analyzed compatible only with Cabernet Sauvignon?

(part 2) From Brian:   What characteristics make an ultra-premium quality crop?

These two questions are what  I am ultimately trying to answer with my project.  What can we grow? And how can we make it the best?  We have a lot of posts to get through until I think we can all begin to understand the concept of ultra-premium wine grape production, but my plan is to discuss this topic, literally, from the ground, up.  With that said, I’d like to introduce a concept in vine production that should help, in part,  to answer both questions.

We begin with the environment.  Our environment not only includes climate, but geography, and the multitude of life surrounding us.  I can assume we all agree this aspect alone is incredibly complex, but, for starters, let’s address climate.

To understand a ultra-premium crop, I think we should look around the world and study where there has been success, and where there has been failure.  Lucky for us,  others before have suffered a lifetime of  trial and error to do just that.  There is a system in place called “degree-days”, which helps growers and winemakers alike, categorize growing regions all around the world.  This system links the relationship between average temperatures during a growing season, and what that means to vine selection.

To calculate “degree-days”, we must first determine the average temperature for the day:

(High Temp+Low Temp)/2 .  i.e., the average summer temp in Napa might look something like this:  (90+50)/2=70.

Now, we subtract 50 from this number to get a degree-day value of 20.  Why 50 you ask?  Simple!  Vine growth will  not occur when exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so they simply do not count (this concept is only concerned with the number of degrees above 50, as these are the only temps in which the vine will be active).   Now, do this everyday from April 1st to October 31st (the growing season), add them up for a grand total and you will have established your “growing region” as detailed below:

REGION I:  up to 2500 degree-days (Rheingau, Germany; best known for the grape variety Riesling.  Also, Burgundy, France: Pinot and Chardonnay).

REGION II:  2501-3000 (Bordeaux, France: you guessed it, Cabernet Sauvignon).

REGION III: 3001-3500 (Calistoga, California: Cabernet, Zinfandel, and some Italian stuff too!  Tempranillo and Sangiovese).

REGION IV:  3501-4000 (Florence, Italy:  a Tuscan favorite, Chianti: 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca).

REGION V:  4001+ (Riverside, California:  They grow it all, whether you like it or not.)

What makes Napa County so unique is that,  according to this system, it includes four growing regions:  Los Carneros (I/II), Oakville (II), and Calistoga (III/IV).

Now, to answer the question:  “Is the soil you have analyzed compatible only with Cabernet Sauvignon?”:

A wine grape-vine consists of two parts:  the fruiting variety, a.k.a. the scion (Cab, Pinot, or Riesling), and a rootstock (cut and paste; Frankenvine, if you will).

Today, all rootstocks in the industry are of North American grape-vine species, due to the fact they are immune to an insect native to North America called phylloxera.  Phylloxera attacks the roots, feeding on the tissue, which in turn stunts growth and will eventually kill the vine.  Rootstock species consist of varieties I’m sure you’ve never heard of, and only people in the South actually dare to ferment their fruit for wine.

“WOOOOWWEEE that Vitis rupestris is full-bodied and smooth!”

To conclude, scion choice is decided on by your climate region and taste, however, the rootstock has every bit to do with how the vine operates as does the climate in which it grows.  With that said, I think the rootstock choice, not the scion, would more so depend on the soil profile.  Later in the project, we will be introduced to all three rootstock species, and after full analysis of vineyard soil profile and choice of planted variety, we’ll make a decision!

Cheers!

UP NEXT:  Part 2 – What characteristics make an ultra-premium quality crop?

All About the Dirt

Posted in Site and profile on September 10, 2012 by projectvee2012

First, thank you everyone for all the positive feedback regarding the project! Like I said in the introductory post, this is a part of the Advanced Independent Viticulture Study course at Napa Valley College. The idea behind the course is: upon approval from the instructor, the student has the freedom to research any topic within the field of viticulture and present the information in an agreed format. In my case, I have chosen to invite a group of people together through the use of a blog and lead planned discussions in managing our own vineyard. In the interest of this study, we are all dirty, filthy rich! WOOHOO! Money is no object to us, so sinking a few million dollars to grow some wine grapes sounds like fun! After all, all our rich friends are doing it, so let’s not be left behind.

I present to you, our vineyard location(!):

Click on photos to enlarge

As you can tell, the previous owner also had the dream of vine fame.  But after losing all his money, wife, truck and dog, the dream has come to a bitter end. Hopeful and all glossy eyed, we scored this location for a cool $500,000.  Our plan is to rip out the old, cursed vineyard and start fresh! First things first, we need to take a good look at the soil.

According the USGS, this site contains a soil known as the Haire Series, indicated by the “146″ below.

If you want to search soil types for your area, you can do so by following these instructions.

I’ll start by throwing out a couple of key terms that should help us read through the descriptions.

1. Loam:  appox. 40% silt, 40% sand, and 20% clay.  When I walked around the vineyard, taking samples of soil into my hand, the feel of loam is light and soft like flour (silt), with a little bit of grit (sand), and when watered, it clumps up (clay) and will form a cast that can be freely handled.

2. 10YR 3/2:  very dark grayish brown to a soil scientist.  The code of numbers and letters directly refers to a chart called the Munsell Soil Color System. Cue corny soil video!

3.  Soil Horizon (indicated by a capital letter and lowercase letter and/or number):  describes soil profiles by their depth and physical characteristics of color, texture, and organic matter.  In our case, with the Haire series, p=plowed and IIC is the hardpan.

4. Hardpan: dense layer of soil in which vine roots will not penetrate

Here is a  picture of what we might expect to see at our location, hardpan excluded:

After reading the above definitions and watching the video, I hope you now know more about dirt -sorry- soil,than you really care to.

When I made my trip to the vineyard, I had planned to pull a 3ft soil sample so we could see how our profile matches the research, but the mineral horizon (A) was too dried out to get the auger down.  The site is currently being irrigated and some locations should soften up, so I’ll be able to get down in the next few days.   Also, during my trip, I gathered some rocks that could offer additional information about the vineyard not included in the soil profiles.  See Rocks!  Any knowledge on these rocks would be great!  To kick things off, I’ve included an excerpt of an artricle on sedimentary formations and volcanic activity in Napa County.  Enjoy :)

And we need a vineyard name so let’s hear’em!

Chris

The Inspiration…

Posted in About on September 5, 2012 by projectvee2012

Hello! My name is Chris McClintock and this is my blog. For the next 15 weeks I will be updating this site with my own research, investigating the science and application of creating my own vineyard. Much like one would draft the ideal team in Fantasy Football, I will research and select a premium site for the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The updates will be made in chronological order, step by step, from site assessment and soil profiling, to the necessary manipulations and first planting. This project is a part of the Advanced Independent Viticulture Study at Napa Valley College, so keep in mind that this site is used only for educational purposes; I am by no means an expert. For those who particpate in this site, I encourage you to comment, ask, and challenge my research. In theory, this project is designed to help someone plant a vineyard who knows next to nothing about the subject; your input will only make the site better. With that said, thank you and I look forward to the weeks of research and converations ahead!

Chris

Coming up next:

Vineyard location and soil profile!

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