Practical Winery
65 Mitchell Blvd, San Rafael, CA 94903
phone: 415-453-9700 ext 102
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Vine spacing on most new plantings is 6 x 8 feet. All estate vineyards are organically farmed. Mildew is easily controlled with organic wettable sulfur applications, and barn owl boxes attract enough owls to effectively manage the rodent population.
“The biggest challenge in farming organically is managing in-row cultivation,” reports Easton. A French plow does about 80% of the job; hand labor with shovels and weed eaters takes care of the remainder.
In normal rainfall years, Easton applies no irrigation. When irrigation is called for, he uses visual observation to gauge when and how much water to apply. Typically, this is 7 to 10 gallons per vine every 14 days. Harvest typically starts in late September.
Application of compost to organicallyfarmed estate Terre Rouge Syrah in late Fall, with composted mix of urban green waste material with natural mineral amendments added, as indicated by soil sampling. Material is applied in the vine row after harvest before large rainfalls begin. The compost’s slow release mix helps achieve living, balanced soils that create healthier vines, with more resistance to pests and diseases. Harvested grapes express greater purity of flavor, and more enologically-desirable chemical balances (sugar/acid/pH ratios).
Easton provides two examples of how he brings the signature of historic Amador vineyards to his wines:
Terre Rouge Syrah, Sentinel Oak /Pyramid Block ($35/bottle) is a 500-case, single-vineyard bottling. The five-acre vineyard (planted in 1984), is own-rooted UCD Syrah 1 clone. Vines are spaced 8 x 12 feet in decomposed granite-based soil that Easton describes as similar to the soils of Hermitage in the Rhône region. The vineyard is on a south-facing slope (1,400 feet elevation), cane-pruned with two sets of movable catch wires. Average yield is 2.5 tons per acre.
Through 2009 the vines were farmed organically with the exception of an in-row herbicide application. In 2010, the herbicide was eliminated. Easton describes the wine as “classic style Syrah with cool-climate characters of gaminess, smoke, forest floor, and spice with layered dark fruit and fine tannins.”
Easton Zinfandel, Fiddletown, Rinaldi-Eschen Vineyard ($28/ bottle) is a 500-case, single-vineyard bottling. The 65-acre vineyard includes one-half acre of vines dating to 1865 — the oldest Zinfandel plantings in California — and 38 acres planted in the early 1900s. Vines are spaced 9 x 9 feet and head-pruned. The clone is a Heritage selection and is part of the ZAP Heritage program. Replants are planted with cuttings from the block.
The vines are dry-farmed, with the exception of irrigation to young replants, and farmed organically, with the exception of in-row herbicide. Yields top out at 3 tons per acre. Easton describes the wine as “finessed, elegant style, soft tannins, dark red and blue fruit with white pepper and good natural acidity.”
In Easton’s experience the most significant factors, practices, and innovations impacting the evolution of grape and wine quality in Amador in recent years are: “There is more attention to detail with work being done in the vineyards. We are attempting to make the wine in the vineyard with more evolved cultural practices before we bring grapes into the cellar.
“Cellar practices have also evolved. High-end cooperage programs and state-of-the-art equipment are now found at the best wineries. Winemaking techniques and philosophies are not just parochial anymore, because they acknowledge an awareness of, and also often access an acquired knowledge
base of, what else is occurring in the cellars of the world’s finest wineries.”
Ann Kraemer has 25 years experience as a viticulturist and consultant in Napa Valley, working with properties that include Domaine Chandon, Cain, and Shafer.
“I looked up and down California for the right spot to plant my own vineyard for 20 years,” she reports. This extensive search led her to Amador County. In partnership with her family, Kraemer established Shake Ridge Ranch in 2001, on a 215-acre property located five miles east of the town of Sutter Creek. Italian immigrants had originally settled the land in the 1870s. They raised cattle and cleared land for orchards, vegetables, olives, and the first winegrapes on the property.
Kraemer was attracted to Amador by several factors. “The soils are deep, well-drained, red loam, and rocky. They are comprised of decomposing compressed sedimentary rock with some moisture-holding capacity. Climatically, overall it is cooler than I expected. Though summer maximum temperatures are on the high side, summer night-time lows are typically in the 50°s. I appreciate the impact this diurnal shift has on acid balance and tannin development.”
How did she decide on the Shake Ridge parcel? “It is a hilly site encompassing variable soil profiles and exposures. This provides flexibility in growing different varieties and targeting the winemaker’s stylistic goals.”
Kraemer brings precision farming practices honed during her years in Napa. Of the 46 planted acres, the first plantings were in 2003 (34 acres), and 12 more acres were planted in 2009.
In developing the vineyard, 22 6-foot deep soil pits were dug over the 46 acres. The pits revealed roots present at 6 feet with slight extractable moisture remaining at 3 to 4 feet deep, even in August. The top 18 inches contained 10% to 40% rock. Between 18 to 36 inches in depth, there is 30% to 100% rock. The type of rock varied throughout the ranch, including red basalt stone, soapstone, quartz, and black shale.
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