Where Grace Grows

Cumaya1
CuyamaPic2

Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, Cuyama Valley, Santa Barbara County

 

The Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard is situated 33 miles east of Santa Barbara, in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Sitting at 3200 feet elevation, the setting is home to sand, brush, exposed rock, and the odd dingo-type wild dog. And grapes. On my first visit to the vineyard (as pictured in this photo), my mother and I were driving the 33-highway route north from Ojai and were beginning to wonder if we had indeed entered the famed Ojai vortex, so foreign was the setting. We hadn’t seen a single soul in over an hour – in fact nothing living save the odd Matilija mountain Poppy. Upwards we continued to climb, until finally we rounded yet another hairpin-bend and both gasped. Nestled below, amidst a vast sea of sand, were row upon row of vibrant vines.

 

And so is the setting for this incredible vineyard. Arid and blazing hot in the summertime, snow-laden and sleepy in the wintertime. Not that the summer months see an influx of people, I believe the permanent population of Ventucopa is 59…

 

I have an ongoing lease of three rows in this remarkable vineyard, which is owned by Laetitia Vineyard and Winery, and nurtured by their famed vineyard manager Lino Bozzano. The entire vineyard is managed sustainably, and planted according to particular site-specificity. Although there are a total of 12 varieties planted, the Grenache plantings represent only 4% of the total vineyard – with five different Grenache clones planted. I am one of five winemakers currently producing wine from this block, and the difference in the wines we each produce speaks volumes as to the part man plays in winemaking.

ShakeRidgePhoto1

Shake Ridge Ranch, Sierra Foothills, Amador County

 

This beautiful property sits atop a ridge on the Shake Ridge Road, a winding old lane that connects the town of Sutter Creek to the historic Volcano. This part of California is true gold country – anciently intelligent – and Ann Kramer’s intuitive planting began here in 2001. With elevation ranging from 1650 to 1810 feet across her myriad of blocks, night-time temperatures can drop by as much as 50’F. Making for very happy grapes, and cows…

 

I was first introduced to this vineyard in 2011, from a dear friend who was writing a piece on the property. I was working in Sonoma County at the time, and Grenache was more difficult to find in the northern climes. After arranging to meet with this remarkable woman, I was compelled to leave my day job, as much as I loved it… And move to the Foothills to learn from this maven of the vines.

 

Grace has been atop a vine post here since that first year, in a block of Grenache planted to my favourite clone 362. Rose quartz is in abundance, reflecting the sunlight back up to the vines through a hue of pink. Or rose-tinted-heart-frequency, as we like to call it…

besson3

Besson Vineyard, Hecker Pass, Santa Clara County

 

The Besson Vineyard sits just shy of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, on the ‘Hecker Pass’ linking Santa Cruz to Gilroy. Planted in 1910, this historic vineyard was brought to fame years ago by Randall Grahm’s ‘Clos de Gilroy’, and I was lucky enough to be offered three gracious tons in 2013. Owned and farmed by third generation farmer George Besson Jr, these amazing head-trained vines now look remarkably like wizards. The vines are spaced 8’x6’ on a gravelly clay loam soil, and continue to be dry-farmed and organic.

 

Grace’s block sits on the western side of the property, abutting an old river bed with the most gentle of slopes. A most humbling opportunity that we are so very grateful for, to work with grapes such as these. Heart-thanks to Alex Krause and John Locke who allow me to share in this bounty each year ~ their Birichino label being the home for the majority of these old wise clusters.

Hoffer
Hofer

Hofer Vineyard, Rancho Cucamonga, Cucamonga Valley

 

This historical vineyard lies 42 miles east of Los Angeles, in the former viticultural wonderland of Rancho Cucamonga. To visit the valley now, one has to imagine really hard what it would have looked like under vine… Concrete is the mainstay, with many industrial headquarters calling this home. Then, one turns onto South Turner Avenue, and sees thick stone walls with ancient Eucalyptus Trees beyond. Drive through the parting of said stone walls, and the imagination turns to awe. Here lies the last 6 acres of the Hofer Vineyard, nestled amongst ancient Pink Peppercorn Trees, aforementioned Eucalyptus, the biggest sand dunes I’ve seen since Rarawa, and head-trained Grenache vines taller than me.
Paul Hofer III is the current steward. His grandfather Paul Hofer planted the original vines in the late 1800s, and the family farm grew to some 960 acres in its heyday. “It took alot of acres to raise a family”, Paul mused during our initial meeting, and proceeded to tell tales of their Cucamonga clusters travelling across the country in boxcars. Prohibition then hit, and hit hard, and they uprooted Muscatel and Rose of Peru, and planted Grenache.

 

Thanks to an amazing friend, I was introduced to this incredible spot in late Spring of 2014. After our initial visit, which alternated between walking amongst the head-trained Grenache vines and Bodhi playing in the sand, we agreed to 3 gracious tons. It is a true honour to work with vines as wise as these: organic since day dot, own-rooted, 77 year old beauties. Thank you thank you thank you Paul Hofer I, II and III xxx

Vie-Caprice-VineyardTall

Vie Caprice Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley

 

The Vie Caprice vineyard is situated in the eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley, just off Refugio Road. Planted in 2007 entirely to Alban clone Grenache, the property serves as a magical haven to friends Leif & Kimmy Hertzog, and Whit Latimer. 87 gently sloping rows canvas the classic Santa Ynez fine sandy loam, and encourage many layers of expression to shine.

 

The vineyard is just 1.98 acres, and the 5’ x 4’ spacing allows for a wonderfully familial competition between the vines. Clusters are tiny, dark, and exuberantly expressive, with the fine structure encouraged by sandy loam soils. Our friend Erik Mallea farms our block organically for us, and tends each and every vine by hand, an impressive task given he is also the vineyard manager at Sanford. When our vineyard dream in New Zealand manifests, this will be our model of a life/vine balance xxx

Provisor600-2
Provisor600-1

Provisor Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley

 

The Provisor vineyard is situated in the Lytton Springs District of Dry Creek Valley, just outside of the delightful town of Healdsburg. Doug and Susan Provisor became dear friends when I lived in Healdsburg in 2010, and we spoke at length about one day making a Provisor vineyard Grenache. Their organic vineyard ~ 3.5 acres planted in front of their home ~ was planted to Syrah then, so it was big dream indeed. Many a dinner party later, the stars aligned and they grafted to Grenache in 2013. In 2014 we took our first harvest south.

 

From this site comes what I call my coming-full-circle grace. It was a Dry Creek Valley Grenache that began my love affair with this grape in 2002… The very first time I tried this variety was an Unti Grenache – whose vineyard is less than 5 miles from the Provisor’s home. Heart thanks to Nick Goldschmidt, who took me to try that first sacred bottle. And divine synchronicity that brought me back eight years later. Sonoma County, we love you xxx

CapriceAngela

Morro View Vineyard, Edna Valley

 

In 2014, Jason was driving from delivering some grapes when the road he was traveling diverted through Edna Valley. Not a road traveled often by us, he was drawn to a particular set of slopes, and stopped to write down the name of the gate. Two phone calls later, and we were off to look at this amazing vineyard just a few miles from the town of Old Edna.

 

It was my Mum, her husband Pete, and our then 1-year-old son, and we were all suitably stunned by the beauty that is Morro View Vineyard. An exercise in biodiversity, the 10-acres of vine are surrounded by 110 acres of oaks, brush, and olive trees. Established in 2009 by the legendary Terry Spizer, the property is certified organic with plans for olive oil and even truffles in the future.

 

This is my first foray into truly cool-climate Grenache wine making, and gives us hope that we really may be able to try it in the homeland one day. We work with three rows in the gracious block planted to clone 362, my favourite…And perhaps the selection that will find its way to a New Zealand quarantine house very soon xxx