Journal | September 18, 2016
Last Harvest for My Nemesis Block
Tomorrow we pick red grapes for Rosé. More on that later. Included in this picking will be a vineyard block that has been my nemesis since 1988 when it was planted. I could look at it as a reminder of all my viticultural mistakes, but I prefer the idea of it serving as tuition in my school of winegrowing evolution. The block is unceremoniously named CS 88/06. We name our blocks by the variety (Cabernet Sauvignon) and the year planted (1988 and 2006). It, along with several others, will be removed after harvest, to be replanted (with Cabernet Sauvignon) in 2018. CS 88/06 is located next to the winery on a granite slope that is an “A” site for Cabernet Sauvignon. However the planting was not well done and over the years I have tried to “fix” it, ultimately making it even worse. It has been a consistent producer in terms of yield, but quality has been mediocre at best. It has never made it into the Hardscrabble blend, always designated to Claret. This year, because of uneven flowering and veraison, I felt it best to pick it early for Rosé as I’m not convinced that it could make good red wine.
So what went wrong? In the late 1980’s a trellising system called Lyre was in vogue. It is intended for high vigor soils as a way of dividing the canopy to give each individual vine space more access to sun. For the first ten years it seem to make sense, but then the vines lost their vigor of youth and struggled to fill the allotted space (they were planted at 12×5 feet). This was not a high vigor soil. The rows were also planted at an east/west orientation, which I have since found is not good for the Cabernets as it provides too much shading. The sun always tracks on top of the canopy and never to the sides.
In fact, most of this block started its life as Chardonnay, but in 2003 Linden had too much Chardonnay and not enough Cabernet, so we field grafted it over to Cabernet. This was only moderately successful and many of the vines died over the next few years. They were replanted with Cabernet.
By 2006 it became evident that we were stressing the vines by asking them to fill this massive Lyre trellis. We converted the posts, wires and vines to the simpler standard system known as VSP. In doing so there was now a lot of wasted space between rows (12 feet, whereas now we plant at 6.5 to 7 feet). I decided to interplant new rows of Cabernet between the existing rows.
What resulted was a Cabernet vineyard with different vine ages, different rootstocks, and different clones. The row orientation was all wrong and a virus disease called leaf roll was rearing its ugly head. Leaf roll is incurable and leads to a slow decline of the vine while slowing ripening of the fruit. This is not the recipe for great wine, so I’ll try again, with more Cabernet, but in a very different way.