Journal | May 13, 2018

Hardscrabble Journal

Viticulture Visits

Yesterday was a very good day. I spent a good part of the day shoot thinning Hardscrabble’s three-year-old Chardonnay. These vines have benefited from my 30+ years of growing grapes on this site. I’ve learned from past mistakes and this vineyard block is a beauty. The season is very much in its infancy, but at this early stage the vines look great.

While working, my thoughts kept drifting back to a visit I had last summer with a very fanatical winegrower in Barolo. I’m one of a group of four viticulturists who love to plan intense visits to wine regions. Our interest is not tourism, nor necessarily winemaking. Our focus is on the vineyards and the winegrowers. We identify the best growers, make appointments (making it clear that our interest is vines and only indirectly, the wines), and spend about three or four days in late July or early August sleuthing the vineyards. This is the perfect time to view the vines as the “green work” is finishing up and one can see the thought process of the grower (i.e. number of shoots retained, leaf removal philosophies, hedging, crop retained, cluster thinning timing, cover crop retention). These are the images that stay in my mind when I evaluate my own vines.
It is also just before everyone heads for the annual vacation.

Roberto Voerzio was our first and only scheduled visit of the day. We were sleep deprived after the flights and the drive from Milan, but very excited to get started. Roberto greeted us politely, but as has become common, I could sense a bit of skepticism. Barolo has become a popular wine tourist destination and the Voerzio winery is open by appointment only.  Often visitors will present themselves as in “the trade” to gain access. We quickly convinced him that we were the real deal as soon as we walked into the vines and the questions flowed like wine at a wedding. We connected. Next thing we knew we were piling into his beat up Land Rover and driving up and down the steep slopes of La Morra. Specific questions triggered visual demonstrations: young vines vs. old vines, hail netting, hedging vs. shoot wrapping. And then there were philosophies pertaining to cluster thinning and crop adjustment. We probably spent over an hour in front of one single vine discussing techniques and timing of removing clusters or parts of clusters in order to balance the vine and make the best wine.

Six hours later we departed and had dinner.