High Rock Ranch Vineyard
Our family first entered the wine industry through a partnership in Concannon Vineyards with our long time friends, the Wentes. The Wente family of Wente Vineyards produces some of the great Northern California Wine in the Livermore Valley (http://www.wentevineyards.com). Concannon was a relatively small winery, producing seven varietals, the most famous being the Petite Sirah. Concannon produced 110,000 cases of wine each year. Our desire with the vineyard at High Rock Ranch was to produce even less, only several hundred cases per year. After many a night deliberating over wine varietals, we came to agreement to plant a fully Organic Rhone Style Syrah.
We knew that in order to produce a great Syrah we had to have the following:
Proper sun exposure
Soil ideally suited for Syrah
Consistent daily temperature variations
Great Syrah clones
A consistent water supply
The best horticultural practice
A great winemaker
Six of seven criteria could produce a good Syrah, but in order to produce a truly great Syrah we had to have all seven.
We began by taking surface/subsoil samples and having them analyzed. The results showed the soil to have a high magnesium, manganese, iron and copper content along with organic matter ranging from 2.8 to 4.0%. We came to learn that High Rock Ranch is located in a very unique geological location known as the “Yorkville Schist”. Our soil is similar to unique soils on the steep hillsides in Northern Rhone valley in Southern France where the great Rhone Syrahs are produced. In order to further enrich our soil we added 10 tons of limestone, 4 tons of compost, 500 pounds of soft rock phosphate, 400 pounds of potassium sulfate and 30 pounds of zinc sulfate per acre. We commend the few wine enthusiasts that are still reading…
We now had the ideal nutrient base to allow for a deep strong root structure. If you grow roses you can appreciate how important the soil is.
High Rock Ranch is located 19 miles from the pacific coast. During peak growing season (Summer), it is not uncommon to wake up to the vineyard being covered in fog. By early afternoon the fog typically burns off and temperature climb into the 90’s. This temperature variation allows the vines to rest and recover during the night and have strong growth during the day.
When choosing the ideal Syrah clones we looked at more than thirty types. Most Sarah clones have been engineered for vigor and high yield. These were not the characteristics we were looking for. We were specifically looking for smaller cluster lower yielding vines that would produce a higher flavor intensity, add complexity to the palate and produce a long finish. We eventually selected four clones. Rows 1 to 36 are Estrella, rows 37 to 63 are clone 174, rows 64 to 93 are clone 1 and rows 94 to 104 are clone 877. We believed that these four clones, would enable us to create a really well balanced flavor profile with the depth and complexity for a great Syrah.
Making the commitment to sustainable horticulture meant spending a lot more money to produce a lot less fruit. Counterintuitively it also meant putting more stress on the vines making them struggle for survival and in turn, producing more intense flavors. This starts with planting and spacing. We planted the vines and rows closer together other than you will typically see in other Vineyards. This forces the roots to compete with one another will also encouraging the root structure to grow down, and not out. the idea is that in the long run the roots, being deeper and stronger will pull in more of the minerals which gives the grapes greater structure and terroir.
Every year we prune the vines to allow six shoots to grow off of the cordon. We typically shoot for two grape clusters per shoot cutting all other grape clusters off of the vine. We don’t start watering until we absolutely have to. When we do water it is just above starvation levels. This keeps the grapes from growing large and having too high of a water content, which will reduce the flavor and intensity. After veraison we wait until the grape size stops growing. At this time of year in late summer the vineyard looks spectacular. It is at this point that we begin the painful process of cutting a large percentage of the clusters off of the vines. This forces all of the energy of the vine into the remaining grape clusters creating a more intense flavor, however if this is done prematurely the remaining grapes will grow too large and can split. As with most aspects of Viniculture and Oenology, timing is critical.
The final stage is the most exciting, yet can also be nerve racking, this is the harvesting.
We like our Syrah to be harvested at 24 BRIX. This allows for just the right balance of fruit flavor along with the right amount of structure and longer finish, truly allowing the terroir to come through. When we reach this BRIX level, we immediately begin harvest the next morning. We start at sunrise, harvest only by hand and have it delivered to the winery before the grapes get too warm.
A good winemaker will make a good wine in a good year. A great winemaker will make a good wine in an average year and an outstanding wine in a good year.
We humbly hope that you enjoy the fruits of our labor.