Viognier, Oursins and Age
A great photo of a fair-weather winter sky (a.k.a. "transitory ridging")

Why you trellis Syrah

So, I was out taking some archival pictures this morning of the face of the winery that will soon disappear as we start the construction on our winery expansion (more on this in the next few weeks).  We're building on the east side of our winery: the side that faces Adelaida Road and which all visitors see first.  On that side, in addition to our staff parking lot and the septic tanks (not beautiful) there are our solar panels (interesting) and a small block of head-pruned Mourvedre vines.  We'll be able to save most of the Mourvedre vines even with the new construction, but will lose a few of the rows closest to the winery.  As I was wandering through these vines, I remembered that when we planted this block, it turned out that we had two Syrah vines mixed (unwittingly) into the Mourvedre.  It's pretty easy to tell, whatever time of year it is, which are the interlopers.  Two photos, first of a typical Mourvedre vine.  Note the nice upright structure:


Next, the Syrah.  Note that it looks like a giant sat on it, with the canes spreading horizontally rather than angling up:


These two photos explain why, in Chateauneuf du Pape, Syrah is excepted from the appellation law requiring all vineyards to be head-pruned.  Most grape varieties (including all the other Southern Rhone varieties) grow in an upright shape, like Mourvedre.  Syrah's horizontal shape tends to lead, when head-pruned, to the grape clusters dragging on the ground and being shaded by a dense canopy.

I get questions fairly often about why we choose to head-prune certain blocks and trellis others.  Some people ask if it is tied to the grape.  It's not, particularly, but is instead more tied to the topography and natural water supply of the vineyard block that we're planting.  A head-pruned vineyard almost has to be dry farmed, as there is no structure on which to run irrigation lines, and takes well to cross-cultivation, which is only feasible on relatively flat ground.  [Though of course cross-cultivation is not required; it's just easier.  There are plenty of old head-pruned Zinfandel vineyard on steep hillsides in Paso Robles, and our own head-pruned "Scruffy Hill" block is one of the steepest on our property.]  But, beyond those considerations, most varieties can be head-pruned.  The exception is Syrah.  And with this Syrah vine soon to be dug out to make space for our new winery, I thought I'd better share the photographic proof.