Ξ June 18th, 2009 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine History, Wineries, Young Winemakers |
What follows is a transcription of a conversation between a winemaker and a visitor. The exchange took place at a new Santa Cruz Mountains winery just coming into its own, the family-owned Heart O’ The Mountain, located above the town of Scotts Valley, California. They produce Pinot Noir from 100% estate-grown fruit. The occasion of my visit was the Santa Cruz Mtns. Winegrower’s Vintner’s Festival, just completed this past weekend. I had been invited to the winery by Patti Bond of Bond Marketing & Communications for a possible interview with winegrower, Bob Brassfield. As luck would have it I was treated instead to the conversation below. Being a strong supporter of winery visitors asking questions, I was to enjoy the very thing.
For my part, I returned to the property a few days later for a full tour of the vineyards, including machinery and the all-important water supply, with Bob’s charming son, Brandon. That detailed conversation will be posted the week of the 21st.
One brief note I’ll write more about next week, the Heart O’ the Mountain winery is located on historically important acreage of an early Santa Cruz winery, Santa Sada, established roughly in 1887 by Pierre and Sada Cornwall.
Prohibition shut them down.
The winery’s website includes this remarkable passage from the pen of their son, Bruce Cornwall.
“In 1881 a redwood and manzanita covered piece of mountainous land, eighty-five acres in size, was acquired by my father in the Santa Cruz mountains. A cottage was built and regularly during the succeeding years Mr Cornwall, his wife and the writer sought this haven of rest and quiet, at first interested in clearing the land, then in planting the seeds and cuttings, and finally in gathering the fruit, crushing the grapes and making the wines from the same seeds and cuttings. Many and happy were the weekends there, enjoyed alone and with friends and relatives. Years of city business worry were thus relieved of their severity and their natural ravages assuaged.”
–Bruce Cornwall, from Life Sketch of Pierre Barlow Cornwall, San Francisco, 1906
I shall try to find more information about Santa Sada for a later post.
Now, the conversation…
Bob Brassfield Typically you don’t make wine out of your first grape harvest  because the vine is young and it doesn’t produced its best fruit at that point. Typically you’d let the birds have it. But we were so excited to see grapes on a vine that we just went out and harvested it! We took them in and we made wine just to see what the end-product was. We passed it around to friends and other people that we knew, we were getting very positive feedback on it. So, I won’t precondition your thought process before you try it, before you’re afraid to say you don’t like it! (laughs)
We only made two barrels, fifty cases, from a single vineyard. Everything we do here is are own estate vineyards. We have 6 1/2 acres planted. If you’re familiar with the Pinot Noir clones, you know, there are over 1000 Pinot Noir clones; we have have five clones planted here. Four of them are Dijon clones from the Dijon region of Burgundy, and one of them is a Pommard from just south of Beaune. Our vines are actually heritaged from that Chateau Pommard estate. It’s been certified through the ENTAV certification process of France to be those vines.
The reason we planted Pommard and not all Dijon is that in the ’70s my wife and I and our young family at the time, we moved to Geneva, Switzerland. That is where we were first introduced to fine wine. Up until that point it was either red or white, the cheapest stuff you could find, right? (laughs). Over there we got a little bit of an education in wine. We went to our first tasting in Geneva. They had barges that they lined up and all the wineries came and they set up their tasting rooms on the barges. We tasted wine there. The one I gravitated to was a Pommard, a 1964 Pommard.
Now we fast forward to 2002 when we were getting ready to plant vineyards. And the person who was consulting with me what to plant, we settled on Pinot Noir, but now was time to choose clones. Everybody was sort of going toward Dijon clones in the last several years. I said at least give me a little Pommard for old time’s sake. And it’s turned out to be my favorite again!
Visitor How long is it from bud break to harvest?
Bob Brassfield Bud break is typically mid-March. We typically harvest somewhere beginning in September. It varies. This hillside right here, the 777 clone, that stuff buds out first if you were to go down and look closely at it you would see we already have berry-set on the hill. But out on the ridge and some other areas it is still flowering. We have the warm days but have the cool nights here.
Visitor How do you pick the clones you’re going to use? I don’t mean the basic clone but the individual type of that clone.
Bob Brassfield Well, we were kind of new to it so we went with the advice of people who were heavily into it at the time. And they advised us on the 667 clone, the 777 clone, and the Pommard, I’ve already told you that story. We chose those three. Since that time a relatively new clone has come into the winemaking arena here in California called 828. And so we grafted some Pinot Grigio. We’d decided we didn’t want to do white wine so we grafted that over to 828. And then out on the ridge, you see it way out there, our newest vineyard, is a 115. So we end up with 667, 777, 828, and 115.
There are a lot of other clones planted in California that are certified as being California clones. It’s not that they were genetically changed in a lab or anything. If you take a grape vine and plant it in certain environment, a certain terroir, over time it might …
Visitor … optimize itself for that area…
Bob Brassfield … start showing its own characteristics, flavor-wise. If it is distinctive enough they will certify it, UC Davis certifies…
Visitor UC Davis has a pretty good website. I was looking at it. I’m in Almaden Valley and I have this little piece of land, not very big. I could probably put three rows of something in.
Visitor’s Wife We have a backyard! (laughs)
Visitor I was thinking about putting in some wine grapes and just dabbling. I’m trying to figure out which ones. Pinot Noir appeals to me but I think it might be too warm out there.
Bob Brassfield You’re in Almaden Valley? I would suspect so. You might be better off to go toward a Syrah or one of the warmer climate grapes.
Visitor I was reading on the Davis website that Pinot Noir seems very finicky. I mean you’ve got problems with keeping all of the stuff off of it, all of the different kinds of diseases.
Bob Brassfield Yeah. You have to treat it real delicate. It’s all hand harvested. We don’t pump, it’s all gravity flow, we don’t filter. We do a cold soaking process in order to get the flavors and aromas out of Pinot Noir. It’s difficult to get it out of the skin.
We harvest each clone separately because they ripen at different times. We bring them in separately, we cold-soak them separately, we warm them up and ferment them separately. And then when we press we go into barrels, 100% French oak.
Visitor All new?
Bob Brassfield No, not all new. The single barrels that we do, the twenty and twenty-five case, that we do in new French oak. But we’re about 50/50 overall. If you’re not careful you can put too much oak on Pinot Noir and destroy the fruit, the fruitiness of it. Tight grain, by the way. Then it’s aged for about 18 months, not all on the new oak for 18 months; we’ll pull it off maybe after 12 months or so, and put it on a neutral oak.
Sometimes we’ll fall in love with a barrel for some reason, we don’t know why. But a barrel will just jump out at you. We will then bottle it by itself.
Well, we better get you two going on the 2006!
And so the exchange continued. I wandered off with Ms. Bond to explore the grounds of the Brassfield’s estate, an estate formerly owner by Alfred Hitchcock. But that is another story.