Replanting Bald Mountain Vineyard
This 40-acre vineyard, planted in 1990, sits at an elevation of 920 to 1,050 feet on a southwest-facing slope. Monterey Bay marine influences combine with the rare white sandy Zayante soil to produce wines with minerality and striking acidity. Plantings: 33 acres of Chardonnay Clone 4. Seven acres of Pinot Noir, clones of Pommard, 667 & Mt. Eden.
We purchased Bald Mountain Vineyard in 2020. The history of Bald Mountain dates back to 1989 when my grandparents and parents leased the 40-acre plot of raw land. My father and grandfather planted the vineyard when I was just 16 years old. The first harvests quickly drew a lot of attention, attesting to the quality of the site. Though this launch was in the then ‘Robert Parker Era’ of fat buttery Chardonnays, the site was showing that it had what it took to create wines that would be genuine crowd-pleasers.
Fast forward to 1998. It was an unseasonably cold season. The rain came early that year which didn’t allow the crop to ripen as much as the purchasing winemakers would have liked. I was 23 years old and had my first inclination to make wine. My dad agreed to give me one harvesting bin of fruit, enough to make one barrel of wine. I picked up the grapes in the dark (and in the rain), and I transported this bin of grapes to my home in Bonny Doon. I used an old basket press in a barn at my dad’s house to press off my first Chardonnay juice. Though I was doing this process with 5-gallon buckets and sans electricity, I instantly felt connected to a sense of naturalness. I will not go further into details about the caveman-like production, but ultimately I was incredibly proud of the nearly undrinkable wine!
Fast forward again to 2001. After the tragedy in New York City, the economy instantly fell into despair, and luxury items like Bald Mountain Chardonnay plummeted. By the 2002 harvest, fruit prices went from $2,800/ton to $800/ton, and winemakers were still not buying. At this time, I had two commercial vintages under my belt but still knew very little about how to make quality wine. Nevertheless, my father suggested that we (as an emerging partnership) take nearly 50 tons of excess fruit over to the Mirassou winery in San Jose, where I was making my small batches of wine under a custom crush contract. It was enough fruit to produce 3,200 cases. I remember this number vividly because I had to take my first business loan to bottle. I ended up pushing this wine into the distribution channels, and admittedly, I sold the wine for less than it cost to make it leaving me with a large pile of debt after the wine was sold out. The first of many lessons I would learn about the wine industry. It took me ten years to pay off this debt with the measly profits I would make from my future wine production. I will skip the next years of perseverance and fast forward again to 2013 when I finally figured out how to make this Chardonnay into something magnificent over a long period of time. At this time in the vineyard’s life, the tonnage produced plummeted due to a few factors, one being a loss of water rights to a pond that used to irrigate the vineyard, but primarily due to a grapevine disease known as Eutypa, commonly known as vine dead arm. Yields went from 3 tons to less than 1 ton per acre, where they stayed for a decade. Long story short, 30 years have passed, and this year we exercised the option to purchase this sacred land. The story of perseverance on this plot of land will continue for the remainder of my career.
Replanting Bald Mountain Vineyard
In early 2020, I experienced the most fulfilling moments in my winegrower career; replanting Bald Mountain Vineyard, huge scores and reviews from critics, lining up to bottle some of the most exciting wines I have made. The replanting was a monumental experience for me and kept me both mentally exhausted and entirely fulfilled at the same time.
We cleared 10 acres of Bald Mountain Vineyard. It was a long process, much longer than the time I had allocated to do the job. Also, twice the cost that I had anticipated! The ground preparation is essential, and this is one part of the project that cannot be redone once the trellising, irrigation, and finally, the vines go in. I consider this ground preparation to be the single most crucial part of making a bottle of wine. Once the ripping and cross ripping is completed, we will disk and ring roll the ground and then leave it to rest for six months before installing the trellising hardware and irrigation. All this clearing happens while we continue to farm the bottom 19 acres of the vineyard.
Farming Bald Mountain has been magical, and taking care of the vineyard takes a considerable amount of work. The first pass through the vineyard by hand is completed with a crew of nearly 15 men and women plus the Carloses and me. With 20 people, the first pass usually takes about four days (640 man-hours) to complete the shoot thinning, removing the basal suckers (green shoots) from the bottom of the plants and possibly push ⅓ of the longer shoots into the first catch wires (many shoots are not long enough and will be on the next pass through the vineyard). This is the third most labor-intensive maintenance part of the vineyard, following the total intensity of pruning (being number one) and picking (being number two). Once we can see this fruit set, we can estimate what we will have for the harvest.