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David Gates in action during harvest
Zinfandel 2010: A Rough Year on the North Coast What happens in the vineyard is a cycle that follows the seasons. Pruning, weed and disease control, forming the canopy, managing crop size, frequent sampling, harvest, vacation, repeat. What keeps it interesting (and me sane) is the continuous dance, the endless variation of each unique season. We strive for balance in our vineyards and in our wines, constantly adjusting and advancing viticultural practices in the estate vineyards so the grapes always have the best chance to become great wines. Mother Nature is very good at keeping us on our toes, as we (and every other zinfandel grower on the North Coast) were forcibly reminded in 2010. Keeping vines balanced is simple in theory, but nuanced in practice. A balanced vine has enough leaves to ripen its crop without undue stress. Some blocks—like Lytton Estate West 36 (planted in 1953) and the old vines at Lytton Estate East (planted in 1902 and 1910) mostly balance themselves each year. All our young vines tend to set more than they can ripen; we are always dropping fruit in these blocks—as much as half the crop in some years. In warm, dry years, we encourage the vines to grow more leaves. In wet, cool years we spend quite a bit of time selectively removing shoots and leaves to bring the vines into better balance. Continued on page 3
Inside Amadia on the Market......... 2 Fall Releases....................... 3 2010 Vintage....................... 4
AMADIA On the Market
An Old Pattern Emerges The Lytton East blocks planted in 1901 make up a classic “mixed-black” vineyard. These 111-year-old vines are the heart of the Lytton Springs single-vineyard wine that Ridge first made in 1972. From the 1880s to Prohibition’s beginning in 1919, interplanting of varieties to create a mixed-black vineyard was common practice in northern California. Typically, such a vineyard contained primarily zinfandel, interspersed with petite sirah, carignane, alicante bouschet, and mataro (mourvèdre), as well as other reds. Last October, Will Thomas—Ridge viticulturist for our Sonoma vineyards—surveyed and mapped the grape varieties in some of our mixed-black parcels. The results of the mapping were interesting, and shattered some longheld assumptions about mixed-black plantings. It had been assumed that these vineyards were randomly planted, with no pattern to where the various varieties were put in the ground. But after Will assessed 4,749 vines in three blocks at Lytton, translating the information to a geo-referenced map, a pattern did emerge. The pattern was simple. Teinturier varieties (grapes whose flesh and juice are red in color) were planted as every fourth vine of every fourth row, producing a square pattern. You can see it on the map below by looking at the red dots which represent grand noir, a red-juice variety A Varietal Map of Lytton East a ‘mixed-black’ vineyard planted in 1901.
similar to alicante bouschet. (This variety makes up less than one percent of the Lytton East vineyard.) Why is the pattern on the map imperfect (i.e. missing some red dots)? Grand noir seems to be a little less hardy than zinfandel, and is more likely to have been replanted over the years. A large wave of replanting occurred at Lytton East about forty years ago; any dead or missing vine at that time was replaced with zinfandel. The vineyard survey also turned up white varieties such as palomino and burger, as well as some syrah, and a large concentration (124 vines) of mataro (mourvèdre) in North Flat 3. Will said that zinfandel and petite sirah are easy to identify by the shape of their leaves. Carignane can be identified by its vigorous upright growth, and the grand noir and alicante by their red flesh. But some vines remained unidentified. Just over twenty vines— unidentifiable using standard ampelography—are depicted on the map by question marks, and will be re-evaluated later this year. These century-old mixed-black vineyards (we call them “old patches”) are California treasures. Nowhere else in the world can one find interplanting of these particular varieties. Our old patches are one key to the quality and uniqueness of many of our wines, including Lytton Springs, Geyserville, and Pagani Ranch. We are convinced that the complexity of wines from these mixed-varietal parcels is far superior to that of single-varietal plantings. So Continued on page 3 Legend Grande Noir Burger Carignane Mataro Missing Petite Sirah Syrah Ungrafted Rootstock Zinfandel ? Unknown
FALL RELEASES Amadia on the Market, continued from page 2
2009 Monte Bello
within the last ten years we have planted new mixed-black blocks at Lytton Springs and Geyserville. We refer to them affectionately as “new patches.”
Tasting Notes: Deep ruby/ purple; blackberry, red current, ripe cassis, cedar, crushed rock minerality, toasted oak. Fullbody, rich tannin structure, dark berry fruit, firm acid, wet-stone, juniper, forest floor, cola, and a lingering exotic oak spice finish.
Will was only able to survey a third of the mixedblack vines at Lytton East. He hopes to complete surveying and mapping the remaining 9,000 vines before the end of the 2012 harvest. If any new “old” patterns emerge, rest assured we will let you know! —David Amadia, VP Sales & Marketing Zinfandel 2010, continued from page 1
In our Sonoma vineyards, 2010 started late and cool. It stayed that way until the last week of August, when we had the infamous “heat event,” two very hot, dry days that scorched half the zinfandel clusters just before they turned color. Before this “event,” we were working toward a late, cool harvest, like 1991, 1993, or 1999...thinning a bit more than normal, keeping the leaves healthy, opening up the canopies for more sun, waiting for veraison. Afterward, we went into a higher gear, assessing the damage and working with the remaining crop to ensure it would ripen fully, and make it to the winery as sound, clean fruit. Right after the event, we made one—then four more—triage passes through the zinfandel vines to remove clusters that were completely destroyed. It quickly became apparent that we would have to throw all our resources into a more intensive, selective harvest that ever. We always spend time, effort, and money on making sure only the best grapes from each block are taken to the winery; unripe, overripe, or damaged clusters are left behind. For zinfandel, this work took on another dimension in 2010— we sorted in both vineyard and winery, trying to bring the same selectivity to a table wine that is applied each year to late-harvest wines in Alsace, the Rheingau, or Sauterne. Literally berry by berry, partial cluster by partial cluster, we sorted through the blocks so that only the finest fruit made it into the fermentors. It was good that we had a large, dedicated crew in 2010; we needed all hands on deck to make a difficult harvest the success it turned out to be. The limited amount of beautiful fruit that reached the fermentors was wonderfully intense, with the best acidity we’ve ever
2010 Lytton Springs Tasting Notes: Briary blackberry, dark cherry and pepper on the nose. Palate full bodied, viscous with well coated tannins, plum and cocoa. Long finish with bright acidity.
2010 Ponzo Tasting Notes: Nose of raspberries, rose petal and pepper. Medium-full bodied, soft and elegant on the palate, fine tannic structure, finishes with cherry fruit and firm acidity.
seen in zinfandel. Harvest 2010 showed that having your vines in good balance isn’t always enough. You also need an experienced crew, and the ability to adjust quickly to whatever might come your way. It is a lesson well learned... and one I’d love never to learn again. —David Gates, VP Vineyard Operations
MONTE BELLO featured in Decanter
VINE YARDS PO Box 1810 Cupertino, CA 95015
Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2008 19.5 “Ridge has long created a Californian classic that broke all the rules—a Cabernet based wine grown not in Napa but on greenstone—and limestone—rich soils in the remote corners of the Santa Cruz Mountains.” May 2012
2010 VINTAGE: A WINEMAKER’S PERSPECTIVE
Sorting It All Out By all accounts, 2010 was a difficult and stressful year to grow zinfandel on the North Coast. What, after all, do you do when a sudden heat wave vaporizes forty to sixty percent of the grapes on the vines in a matter of hours? The answer is simple, the solution laborious. You drop the scorched clusters and sort the rest. Each cluster of grapes must be meticulously examined and all damaged grapes removed. While the vineyard work was an uphill battle all season, winemaking for 2010 had both challenges and some pleasant surprises. Besides zinfandel, our Sonoma County vineyards are planted to other complementary varietals; chief among these are petite sirah and carignane. Since they were far less affected by the heat than zinfandel, they were present in higher proportions than usual. In a traditional block at Lytton Springs, for example, fifteen percent of the vines interplanted with zinfandel are petite sirah—but the percentage of that varietal harvested in 2010 was at least two
times the norm. This meant extra attention had to be paid to the fermentations during daily pump-overs, in order not to overextract the abundant tannins characteristic of petite sirah. Some lots had to be pressed early, which by separating the fermenting juice from the grape skins and seeds, maintains the full, sumptuous quality of the young wine, preventing it from becoming dry and astringent. In the vineyard, after the heat-damaged fruit had been removed, the remaining fruit ripened very quickly. This had an unexpected consequence: the vine accumulated sugar while retaining its natural acidity. Typically, as sugar increases in the grape, acidity decreases. In warm areas such as Sonoma County, therefore, lack of acidity is a more common problem than lack of sugar. From the moment the first zinfandel arrived from block 25 at Lytton West on September 3, it was apparent that 2010 was one of those ideal vintages in which sugar and acid are in natural equilibrium. The color alone is different. There is a luminosity to the 2010 zinfandels that at once reminds you of a hard-fought battle—and a prize worth all the pain. —John Olney, VP Winemaking - Lytton Springs
2012 Fall Wholesale Newsletter from Ridge Vineyards