Our Home Ranch Vineyard. Take a look at that beautiful dirt! Our estate vineyard was planted in 1996 on top of gravel from a now-extinct river that ran through the Livermore Valley Wine Country for centuries.
The resulting gravel is hundreds of feet deep in this spot. This rock drains exceptionally well, retains heat if it gets cold later in the season, and reflects light up under the canopy, aiding in the ripening of our clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon. This clone represents 70-80% of all the Cab grown in California. It is also called the Concannon clone which traces its ancestry back to first-growth cuttings that were planted in Livermore in the 1870s.
The Steven Kent Winery makes a single-vineyard wine from this site, and the fruit is also used in a super-Tuscan style blend of Cabernet and Sangiovese called Vincere. At times, it will also be used for the Lineage | Livermore Valley blend.
We changed farming companies before the 2018 harvest, and one consequence of this move was the need for me to do my own fruit sampling.
Sampling is the process of taking berries or bunches of grapes randomly from a block of fruit in order to gauge the ripeness of those grapes. We will do this sampling as we get relatively close to harvest, say, a couple of weeks out. The first result serves as a baseline; all subsequent measures of brix, pH, and TA (for our purpose, total acidity) generally advance toward what ripeness would mean from a numbers standpoint.
For me, though, these numbers are only confirmatory. I’ll only pick fruit if the flavors and textures of the grape match my conception of ready-to-go.
Beyond the specific purpose of determining how far out harvest is, walking our
vineyards frequently keeps me in touch with potential issues in terms of health of the vines and keeps me close to the great beauty of a well-planted and well-maintained vineyard.
Over the course of the next 12 months, we’ll be whittling a redwood down to a finely-sharpened toothpick as Aidan Mirassou, my assistant winemaker, and I move through 85 barrels of 2017 Bordeaux varieties in 12 separate barrel groups to get to the perfect few that will become Lineage 2017.
There are many ways of tackling the complexity inherent in this task, but I want to be sure that in getting to our answer we don’t miss out on the joy and beauty of this most essential thing we do: ultimately, is this wine delicious and does it bring me joy?
As Aidan and I taste through the barrel groups we will be taking a lot of notes, talking a lot about our individual preferences and making a lot of mock blends. One of things that makes blending this way so interesting is that neither one of us tastes the same thing as the other. What may seem thin and lacking in varietal character to Aidan may be overly wooded and too viscous for me. So, in the journey to craft a wine of beauty and tension and complexity, Aidan and I must “battle” our own individual (and sometimes – idiosyncratic) biases to get to a point of agreement, perhaps…but – more importantly – to arrive at a point that most honestly serves the true nature of this particular wine.
When Lineage 2017 is released my profoundest hope is that the wine is not only spectacularly delicious but that it serves as a symbol for the way I want to make wine and live life. Hopefully, it prods and maybe even provokes a little. This wine should transform, if only to a tiny degree. And if we succeed, we will all see wine and winemaking a little bit differently… perhaps, even feel it a little more deeply.
The elements that I keep going back to, especially when thinking about what my final blends will bloom into, are balance and proportion, elegance and evolution.
From the first major decision: when to pick the grapes, to the point of putting the wine into bottle, I am thinking about how to make wines that are of a piece. I believe the best wines are the most beautiful and elegant wines. For me, elegance means proportionality and cohesion. It means that there are no winemaking flourishes that are made simply because I can.
Each wine I make must express the point that it is exactly what it is supposed to be – a reflection of a place and time and philosophy that gives room for the wine to BE the wine. While it is true that winemakers MAKE wine, I want to be deft in my decision making, striving to make sure that the choices I make are (first) those that – Hippocratically – do no harm and that are made in service of the most beautiful expression of each vineyard and variety I work with. Great wines are those that effortlessly display their complexity, potential for positive growth and – in the end – a living, beating heart.