Happy May to you! It appears that the wet season is behind us finally (typed while holding my breath). These next few weeks are a bit of a white knuckled ride: depending on temperature, flowering in grapevines happens between 40 and 80 days past budbreak. The 40 day marker is well past, and I can see the development of the flowers happening more quickly due to the warmer temperatures in the past week. All we can do is wait and pray for no rain during flowering. The next 30 days will dictate the years ahead of us. The past two years, our vineyards were severely damaged by late season rains that happened during the short flowering window. When I say this dictates the years ahead of us, I am referring to the shortage of inventory in the winery caused by a reduced grape harvest. This affects everything from how many people will have jobs, to whether or not we can pay ourselves. Though it is in nature’s hands ultimately, the vineyard crew pushes forward on the vine maintenance. The majority of investment each year in the vineyard happens before fruit set (post flowering). Even if the rain damages the crop, the vines must be maintained to prepare for the following year. When you own your vines, you tend them whether they bear fruit or not. One cannot simply throw in the towel on a vintage, because the vines need to be trained for next year. “Next year” is a common thing we say in the vineyards.
“The single most important statement on a wine label is Estate Grown” - Jeffery Patterson, Mount Eden Vineyards Saratoga.
This brings me to a little thought I have been wanting to write about for some time. The subject is ‘Estate Grown’ and what it means to have this on the label. The technical meaning, which is unofficially synonymous to ‘Estate Bottled,’ is that a wine must use grapes grown by the producer on their own land or in vineyards that the winery is in complete control of via a long-term lease, and they must be crushed and bottled at the winery. The short answer to why this is important is the producer’s long term commitment to the land. In today’s market, many wines are made by producers who purchase fruit and then in many cases have wine made for them at another facility. Often these wines are very high quality. Now before I go into this, I am completely aware that in my own case I am very lucky to have three generations of family before me establishing vines. That said, there is a certain level of romance that a winegrower will have with his/her vines that is simply non existent in foraging (constantly looking for fruit) brands. The foraging brands make and sell wine, the estate wineries sell captured terroir. In France, the term Vigneron is used to describe the person in charge of growing grapes to make high quality wine. In general, the Vigneron does not sell the grapes that he/she grows. A Vigneron is someone who cultivates a vineyard for wine making. The word connotes or emphasizes the critical role that vineyard placement and maintenance has in the production of high-quality wine.
Each year looks into the next for the Vigneron. In this case Jim Beauregard has 50 years of commitment to growing wine grapes in Bonny Doon. This long term commitment irrefutably contributes to quality. The Vigneron has learned many lessons from mistakes and knows the climate and soils of his particular point on the globe like the back of his hand. The lessons learned can only be taught to a long term apprentice which in most cases is a family member. The love for the land is uncompromising and unconditional, like a family member. The Vigneron belongs to his vineyard as much as the vineyard belongs to him. He does not grow a product, the Vigneron grows passion.