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Mixed Whites

October 2, 2020
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The story of the Mixed Whites is unusual in our world of varietal white wine. The idea came to me while wandering about in Sonoma Valley’s historic field-blended vineyards.  As I heard their stories, I came to understand how precious the few, but ever-present white grape varieties were that existed among all the reds. 

It was a gamble to gather all these varieties in the form of cuttings and bring them to Old Hill.  We grafted them as a field blend in single block.  What I knew is that some of the varieties were aromatically intense, such as Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Malvasia and the various Muscats, but that others such as Muscadelle, Chasselas, Clairette, Semillon, and Grenache Blanc were more neutral in character.  Blended together, I hoped, the resulting wine would be pretty, with modest intensity, but not dominated by any one variety. 

I did not know what to expect of the wine. The risk and resulting anxiety of this enterprise was considerable.  It took one year of soil preparation, five years from planting to harvesting any fruit, and then another year to bottle before I would know what we had.  I might add the vineyard was replacing Cabernet, a wine we can sell more easily for more money (guh!)

Lizanne and I both enjoy a “glass” of white wine before dinner. Our budget is modest and generally we steer ourselves to French or Italian, finding, for example, Sancerre to be right in our wheelhouse.  We like bright acid, slightly neutral, with plenty of citrus or tropical or earthy mineral notes, but not sloppy, big, oaky or sweet! 

Our first vintage of Mixed Whites was in 2015 and we made a whopping 28 cases.  I was enthusiastic about the wine, especially the aromatics, but admittedly, there was a certain cloying character that appeared on the palate.  I suspected that in my enthusiasm to get yield, I had pressed the grapes too hard.  In 2016 and 2017 the character was still present, however more modest, as I pressed more gently and made a few other winemaking adjustments. 

Since 2015 I have steadily become more in love with the wine, or should I say the vines. They grow on what is the most stressful block on the Ranch, with very rocky, shallow soils up on top of a volcanic dome seen as you drive by on Hwy 12.  Underneath the shallow soil is a layer of volcanic tuft, an impermeable layer of ash and stone welded together in another eon. 

We grafted the vines to St George rootstock, hoping the vigorous rootstock would help the vines survive the annual drought inflicted by the shallow soils.  But it turns out the site is also the windiest on the Ranch too, adding to the overall stress and dryness of the site.  

Some of the vines are thriving, but many are overly stressed. Dry farming the vines is still my goal, but there are too many factors that have worked against success.  This year I installed some irrigation to see if we could nurture along the vines that are behind.  The production continues to be very limited, with the average yields remaining under one ton per acre. 

It is these kinds of winemaking challenges that are most interesting to me.  Forging ahead in unknow territory and investing time, energy and ego. There is no doubt that I have lost all objectivity about the wine, but I still think you should give it a try, especially if served chilled with oysters! 

2017 Fires

October 4, 2019
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News Letter and description of the infamous morning of October 9th, 2017

Fall 2017

The Big Apple

August 29, 2018
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Will’s big day in the Big Apple By Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal

or

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-a-bottle-makes-its-way-onto-a-wine-list

When in drought: the California farmers who don’t water their crops

November 23, 2016
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https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/05/dry-farming-california-drought-wine-crops

It is not a “miracle”

September 1, 2016
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The Miracle Water Village.  An amazing story on many levels about an Indian village which became self-sufficient in water after facing acute water shortages. This story resonated with me in particular because of one of the management strategies they employ; slowing water down.  The idea is that the longer the water stays on your farm, the more time it has to percolate into the soil and into the aquifer.

This is an all important tenet of dry-farming!  Keeping the water  around for as long a possible for the plants to enjoy throughout the dry growing season.  However it is my observation that most farmers speed water up, preferring to get the water off the land as soon as possible.  Dry soil is necessary for tractor work, and what does it matter if one has “unlimited” access to irrigation anyway…

 

 

 

 

 

Dry-Farming in a Drought cont…

August 31, 2016
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Not only do we pay close attention to the volume of rain we receive in any given season, but also to the amount of time that the rain falls. Last season at this time we were at 24 inches with most if the rain falling in December during three heavy storms. The 15/16 season has only produced about 13 inches of rainfall so far, it has fallen slowly, in increments, over at least a dozen storms. While the totals are significantly less, the slow and steady precipitation has soaked into the ground. At this time our cover crops are lusher and the ground is more saturated than last season. While I love a good atmospheric river that dumps buckets of rain and fills reservoirs, our vineyard is wetter today than it was at this time last year and with only half the rain!  And it does not hurt that the forecast looks very promising.  (this post was lost in my drafts folder, thus the publishing date…)Jan 30 Cover Crop

2015 Photo Journal

October 26, 2015
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Spring pruning the Bambino.  Prune at the last possible moment to offset climate change

spring purning

An Old Vine not long for this world.  One of my favorites.

last legs

It will go to Old Vine Heaven

dead soldiers

Been working on a complete redesign of our label.  I am not sure what will become of it…

Final New Label

Kid in a candy store.

kid in a candy store

dusty

harvest dog

dog tractor

Very excited to pick our first crop of Mixed Whites!

picking mixed whites! mixed whites

Pet peeve, sorting in the winery.  Efficient, effective and easy to do it in the vineyard.

sort!

sorting in the vineyard

What does it mean to be an “ancient vine”

wood

Just dirt?  Nope.  It’s alive!  (more to come)

healthy soil

 We just got new solar installed and a used electric work cart.  Very fun!

golf cart

Music to my ears

August 30, 2015
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NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
443 AM PDT SUN AUG 30 2015

.SYNOPSIS…A DRY UPPER TROUGH WILL REMAIN ANCHORED NEAR THE WEST
COAST THROUGH MOST OF THE WEEK. TEMPERATURES NEAR THE COAST WILL
BE NEAR SEASONAL NORMS…WHILE INLAND AREAS WILL GENERALLY BE
COOLER THAN NORMAL OVER THE NEXT SEVEN DAYS. NO RAIN IS EXPECTED.

2013 Year in the Rear.

November 16, 2013
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It appears that we might get some rain finally! I am guessing that 2013 will go down in the history books as the driest year on record. We have had 3 inches since January. In a “normal” year would expect more like 15 inches.

With little to no rain in January or February, we started to cultivate the vineyard in mid-March as the ground became dry. April was windy, warm and dry. Buds started to appear by the first week and by the end of the month, everything was out several inches.

This was in spite of the delay tactics we employed, what old timers call “long pruning.” Long pruning is a technique to delay early bud break as a means of frost protection. We don’t usually have much frost but I use it as a hedge against climate change. My hope is that if I can delay bud-break then I can lengthen the growing season as the grapes are more likely to be hanging during the shorter and cooler days in October.

long pruned

long pruned

The process is as it sounds, we simply leave more buds on the plant than we actually want at the first pruning on March 12th, leaving a longer spur. As the ground is warming the freshly cut plant bleeds sap which is what delays bud break. We returned on March 27th, just as the buds are starting to push to remove more buds, each time inflicting a small wound and hopefully delaying the bud-break.

Things moved very quickly and by May 1st we were basically done with our spring work load well over a month earlier than a typical year. We began to speculate that might begin harvest in late August. However, as fall approached, the weather became more seasonable, and things slowed down. September and October were downright gorgeous, with a few light and early dollops of rain, but mostly dry and seasonable weather. Harvest began on September 13th, exactly two weeks earlier than 2012.

The quality of our harvest seems to be fantastic, but ask me in a year. The acids in the grapes were a little unbalanced with high malates (due to the short growing season I suppose) and low tartarics. Given the dry year and the dry-farming, the yields were quite respectable. We probably dropped more fruit than we would have if there had been more moisture in the ground, but it was the right thing to do and we still ended up with just under 3 tons to the acre.

It is now mid-November and it appears we may get a little light rain but the forecast is still very quiet. I am very anxious to get some moisture in the ground so the cover crops can germinate and lift my mood away from the threat of a looming drought.

“mixed blacks”

November 5, 2012
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