The Kenwood Press
: 04/01/2017

First hint of Vintage 2017 – Bud break

George MacLeod

It is five a.m. and still dark outside. But the vines are talking to me. Last summer, if you burrowed into a grape vine for a close up look, you’d have seen that each vine leaf was carefully sheltering the growth of a small lump at the base of the leaf stem. As the season moves along, the leaves turn brown and are blown off by fall and winter winds exposing this tiny, tear-shaped lump we call a bud. These small, pointed, brown buds are about an eighth of an inch in diameter, a quarter inch high, occur on the vine canes about three or four inches apart, and contain the entire coding for the bunches of grapes that will become “Vintage 2017.” This is the beginning.

This is a time in the vineyard filled with optimism and expectation. When the buds are beginning to mature, a tiny white line will appear across the top of the bud where the two halves of the bud come together. This is the top edge of the first leaf. The buds will soon begin to feel the signals of spring and the tiny white line will grow fuzzy as the bud swells. It won’t be long now before the two halves of the bud burst open and you will be able to see down inside to the two tiny bunches of grapes.

How did we get here?

I’ve been thinking lately about the bigger picture of our “journey to harvest.” Not to worry, dear reader, I’ll continue to report on the journey to harvest progress of vintage 2017, but bear with me for a moment while we talk about the journey of our family to this place. As we continue to work this wonderful 50 acres of Sonoma Valley terroir, I can’t help but pause to reflect on “how did we get here?”

My lifelong interest in property runs deep in family history – as far back as the American Civil War (or what some in the South still call the “War of Northern Aggression”). Our family was from Louisiana, and we lost everything in the difficulties between the states. We had to start all over. My mother’s lifelong ambition was to see the family’s property and “proper place” restored. She raised me and my three siblings to believe that getting a good education, combined with an unbendable commitment to hard work and tenacity of spirit, would enable us to eventually earn the chance to, as she put it, “get our plantation back.”

My mother was always telling us stories about how family members had overcome great odds to achieve their dreams. One of my favorites was the story of my great great grandfather, Ben Marshall, at the battle for Malvern Hill – one of the Civil War battles being fought for Richmond, Virginia. Ben Marshall was a flag bearer in the army of Robert E. Lee. Charging up Malvern Hill, directly into Union canon fire, Ben was wounded, losing a leg.

Ben goes home to South Carolina to convalesce and could have quit the ugly conflict. Instead, he resolves to rejoin the fight. Only with his injury he is no longer able to be a flag bearer in the infantry, so he applies for the cavalry. The only problem is that he doesn’t have a horse. But no leg… no horse… no stopping Ben Marshall. He gets a neighbor to donate a horse, rejoins Robert E. Lee’s army, and continues to fight.

Hearing the story from my mom, all us kids understood that the point was not about the war, or the issues being fought over, but was about the character of sticking to your goals. Never stop working to realize your dreams, and eventually you’ll get there.

Even today, as I drive around our MacLeod Family Vineyard here at Indian Springs Ranch, I’ll roll down the window, wave my clenched fist in the breeze and say, “Mom, this might not be Tara, but we got our plantation back.”