Over recent years, we've become more and more convinced that dry farming is perhaps our most powerful tool in making wines that express their place. I wrote about this in detail in 2010, and since then most of our new plantings have been very traditional: head-trained, dry-farmed and wide-spaced, reducing the competition from neighboring vines and allowing each vine access to a generous portion of soil from which scarce water can be pulled. Of course, the vines have to grow an enormous root system to pull out this water, and it's probably of little surprise that the lots from these dry-farmed blocks are typically among the most compelling in our blind tastings. The En Gobelet wine (read about the 2010 here) made entirely from these blocks is probably the clearest example.
We source the majority of our En Gobelet from a block we call Scruffy Hill, a relatively isolated dozen-acre planting on the south side of Tablas Creek, bordering Vineyard Drive. I spent some time this morning, under rare summer cloud cover, prowling around Scruffy Hill to see how the vines were faring after our second consecutive drought winter and our hot spell a few weeks back. I was, as I consistently am, blown away by how healthy and vibrant the block looks, typically at least as vigorous as blocks that we plant in the trellised, densely planted configuration more commonly seen in California vineyards. A few photos will illustrate. First, an overview of the block, with head-trained vines retreating down the hill:
You can see how chalky the soils are even in the above photo. Here's a closeup:
The Grenache vines (which comprise a big piece of this block) are still pre-veraison, vibrantly green but fully sized, ready to change color in the next few weeks:
In my ramblings, I found exactly two purple berries. One is below, presaging the coming transformation:
One of the advantages of head training is that the weight of the growing clusters pulls down on the canes of upright-growing grape varieties like Grenache, opening the canopy to the circulation of light and air and reducing the pressure of fungal diseases like powdery mildew. For the same reason, it's not a great technique for more horizontal-growing varieties like Syrah. And even when the canes have been pulled down, like in the vine below, the leaves still sit above them and offer shade. I didn't see a single sunburned berry in my explorations.
One more photo will give you a sense of the whole picture at this deceptively quiet juncture in the ripening cycle:
The transformation that will take place over the next few weeks will change the look and feel of the vineyard dramatically. But for now, things look just great.