Practical Winery
65 Mitchell Blvd, San Rafael, CA 94903
phone: 415-453-9700 ext 102
email: Office@practicalwinery.com
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JULY/AUGUST 2010
WINE GROWING
Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera, Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Primitivo, Viognier, and Graciano were planted, plus small experimental plots of Bordeaux varietal.
Rootstocks chosen to match the soil profile of each block and characteristics of the variety, include 101-14, 110-R, 1103-P, St. George, 420-A, and 3309. Kraemer states, “It is still too early to determine the ‘winners and losers,’ although definite nutritional attributes are becoming apparent.”
Vine spacing and trellising systems are designed to give optimal sunlight to balanced vines on different hillside exposures. Bilateral cordon VSP vines are spaced 8 x 5 feet and head-trained vines are spaced 9 x 7 feet. Row orientations are tailored to the aspect of each block. Kraemer’s preference is to plant in a generally east/west direction, with tweaks to the north for optimal sun exposure without sunburn. Pruning, canopy, and crop management practices are tailored to each block, working for optimal vine balance and targeted wine style.
The vineyards are farmed organically with the exception of in-row herbicide. Weed control is a challenge due to the rocky soil content. Young blocks are spaded every tractor row for the first one to two years.
Kraemer’s preference is for permanent cover crops on established blocks. However, the vines in some blocks are not yet strong enough to tolerate no-till cover in every tractor row. In these blocks, alternate tractor rows are seeded annually with a “soil builder” mix of oats, barley, and peas which is then spaded. Once the strength of the vines improves, she will eventually convert to permanent cover.
Numerous owls living in the trees surrounding the vineyard help contain the large rodent population. Releases of predaceous mites and thrips control mites. “Green manure” cover crops and soil amendments (mostly gypsum) are the basis for the vine nutrient program. The program varies by block, depending on variety, rootstock, vigor, and soil. Kraemer watches the weather for mildew pressure, and adjusts her spray program accordingly.
Irrigations (when needed) are long and deep. No irrigation is applied until after the vines have stopped growing and the first fruit thinning pass is completed. Exception is taken in dry winter years, when an irrigation may be done prior to or at bud break. The objective of this is to help with nutritional uptake of the vine, rather than encourage shoot growth. Thereafter, the strategy varies by growing season.
Typically, however, there is one irrigation before and one after veraison. If water is needed closer to harvest, then lower volumes are applied. Inline shut-off valves are used to water parts of blocks when necessary.
Average overall yield for the last three vintages is 2.5 to 3.6 tons per acre. Individual blocks average between 2 and 4 tons per acre. Kraemer would like to increase yields of the weaker blocks, by building up their capacity to carry more fruit.
Kraemer shares some challenges of farming Shake Ridge:
1) Soil nutrition – High magnesium and low cation exchange (phosphorus, boron, zinc, calcium). Compost application and cover crops build up soil nutritional balance — a slow process, but it is working.
2) Mites – Beneficial releases are employed.
3) Zeroing in on the optimal timing of fruit thinning and irrigations.
4) Precision, custom farming requires a lot of hand labor, which is costly with a small pool of skilled workers in the area.
What are the biggest opportunities that farming in Amador brings her? “Working with varieties I have not worked with before. Admittedly, this is definitely also a challenge at times. Since I am working with my family’s vineyard, as opposed to an employer or client, I have the freedom to take more risks. If I think that something is the right thing to do, I can do it. I am always learning something new.”
A portion of Shake Ridge fruit (25% to 30%) goes to make wines for the Kraemer family’s own brand, Yorba Wines. The wines are made by Ken Bernards at Ancien Winery (Napa, CA).
Current releases (2,000 cases total), include Zinfandel ($28), Barbera ($26), Tempranillo ($38), Syrah ($32), and a “Shake Ridge Red” blend ($28) whose components differ each vintage.
“All of the wines express the signature characteristics of the ranch,” explains Kraemer. “The tannins are big, yet resolved. There is bold fruit, balance, and structure. The goal in making the wines is to show the potential of the ranch. While we have some great winemakers buying our fruit, it is good to have our own brand connected with the vineyard.”
The balance of Shake Ridge fruit is sold to other wineries. In 2010, Kraemer will sell to a total of 12 wineries. Two are in Calaveras County (Hatcher and Newsome Harlow). The others are in Napa and Sonoma Counties that include Favia, Keplinger, Courier, Vino D’Angelo, Jazz, Turley, and Gallica. As a testament to Kraemer’s viticultural prowess and the inherent qualities that Amador has to offer as an appellation, the fruit is coming to be in high demand.
Conclusion
The history of Amador County is a rich one. Its future is in the hands of talented growers with decades of experience in the region, and also those new to the area bringing fresh perspectives. Over the past 40 years, winegrape growing in Amador has become more complex, with combinations of century-old and newly planted vineyards and expansions into different grape varieties. The challenge of this diversity has been met with an awareness that in order to maximize quality, collaboration and flexibility are essential.