Kenwood Press

Serving the communities of Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Oakmont

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Journey to Harvest: 03/01/2012

Marie and Javier tell their story

Readers of this column know that our vineyard is a very personal affair and that we have tried to listen to the comments and opinions of our vines. Smile if you wish, but all experienced wine makers know that 80 percent of the quality of a great wine is made in the vineyard, so this is important. To make this easier, Marie is the spokesvine for our Sauvignon Blanc, and Javier for our Zinfandel. Both have asked often if they could have a chance to tell their personal stories.

Marie's story, speaking for her

7,400 vines

Our true home is the wine-grape province of Bordeaux in France, as members of the famous Chateaux d'Yquem winery, without doubt the most famous Sauterne-producing estate in all of France. We are descendents of a 400-year-old ancient royal viticulture family. We are intimately related to other Bordeaux royalty including Cabernet Sauvignon. Sometime around 1880, an American journalist, Charles Wetmore, reportedly stole late at night into the Sauvignon Blanc vineyard of Chateaux d'Yquem and secretly cut a large bundle of our canes, concealed us in his valise, and took us to California where we have felt like captives ever since. We don't really know how he actually got the prized canes, but we do know that Chateaux d'Yquem is very protective of all aspects of their operation.
Bordeaux: Home of our Sauvignon Blanc.

Mr. Wetmore divided his stolen treasure between his own Cresta Blanca vineyards and the El Mocho vineyard near Livermore. Years later, the Wente Brothers bought this vineyard. All of us here on the ranch have grown from budwood from this El Mocho-Wente vineyard.

We have been proud that the terroir on this ranch really matches that of other great Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in New Zealand, South Africa, and our native Bordeaux. The north sloping hillside soil is shallow, lean, very rocky, and well drained. Breezes from the Pacific keep us cool during the hot afternoons as we ripen. This special terroir enables us, when properly managed, to produce a spectacular white wine, with delicate zesty flavors and aromas of citrus, pineapple, green apples and a wonderful mouth feel and finish. We know that our crop size is severely limited to about four and a half tons per acre by your terroir, versus nine to 10 tons per acre at more conventional, deep, non-rocky soils. But we know that our special quality makes all this worthwhile. For example, try our wine with barbecued oysters!

Javier's story, speaking for his

8,000 vines

No one knows for certain how we got here, so we have always thought of ourselves as orphans or immigrants in a new land. We have no well-defined family anywhere, and as a result, very little family baggage. Genetic studies have identified a grape in Croatia that matches, and there are several other grapes such as Primitivo in Italy that also match. But how we got here is not known. Zinfandel grapes were grown in glass hot houses in New England as early as 1820 and were very popular as table grapes. Hence, cuttings could most probably have been brought by 49ers. It has been suggested that Col. Agoston Harazthy brought Zinfandel cuttings along with other European varieties in the 1850s, but there is no evidence to support this.

But whatever the case, we began to show up here in California in the 1850s. Prior to our arrival most California wine was made from the Catholic Father's Mission grape. By 1880 we had become the most popular grape for red wine all over California, though there were still a few Mission grape vineyards. Growers found that they could grow good Zinfandel grapes almost all over the state. During prohibition we were the dominant shipping grape for home winemaking all over the U.S.
Croatia: Probable home of our Zinfandel. Lots of relatives here.
When picked at 23 brix we traveled well. Since we were grown all over the state in completely different areas and making a host of different wines, many felt that we must be a group of separate grape clones. In the 1950s, the University of California at Davis sponsored two different experimental test blocks with cuttings from all over the state. Samples from these tests that were disease free and with the most typical fruit and foliage were selected and became the budwood clone for grafting in new vineyards. And that non-glamorous budwood selection describes our beginning at the ranch. Later in the 1990's U.C. Davis did the exercise again of taking budwood from all over the state and planting a new vineyard in their research facility in the Napa Valley, at Oakville. To no one's surprise, genetic modeling revealed that all the vines were genetically identical.

All of this produced results we vines already knew. It means that we Zinfandel are indeed THE California grape, capable of yielding different wines from different locations. It means then that the vineyard's individual terroir plays a big role in determining the characteristics of each vineyard's wine. We do have a few cultural issues. We tend to overcrop and need thinning. We personally prefer head pruning over cordon pruning. We do not ripen uniformly and we can get bunch rot if our bunches overlap each other. But these issues are easily managed by the owner.

We can indeed do anything. You want Port or a white Zinfandel with some residual sugar, or a desert wine, or most important, great clarets, all different as a function of different vineyards? Truly we Zinfandels see ourselves as a grape or wine for all seasons. And for the grower: Do you want a Zinfandel vineyard in the Mother Lode, in Napa or Sonoma, in Paso Robles, in Lodi? You name it, we can do it and thrive everywhere. Go ahead. And if all this were not enough, we can live forever. Some of the head pruned 100-year plus Zinfandel vineyards here and there all over California, many with no irrigation, are still producing wines of great quality! Now the rest of you vines try to match all of this!

Owner, Indian Springs Ranch and Vineyards

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