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Deb sniffs a glass of wine next to a wine barrel

Winegrower’s Notes

Harvest 2011
Biodiversity in the Vineyard
Crafting a Perfect Blend

Learning how to make wine is an adventure that never gets old. For folks who like to dig a little deeper into the how and why of our winemaking, we share lessons learned and reflections on the process.

2011 Harvest—Phew, It’s Finally In

This season was trying for most vineyards, with a very cool, wet spring and cooler than normal summer. In fact, summer didn’t really arrive until September and then early rains arrived in October. Despite all the challenges though, we are happy to say that our syrah and merlot came through well. We harvested later than ever, on October 27th and 29th and were amazed at how our Hawks Butte Vineyard held together. The good thing about this year is the long hang time for the fruit, which promotes better flavor development.

Biodiversity in the Vineyard

Left to her own devices, Mother Nature does pretty well. At our Hawks Butte Vineyard, we apply sustainable viticultural practices to support natural processes and help keep our vineyard in balance. Several years ago, we started growing annual cover crops to enrich the soil. A few years ago, we placed bird boxes to attract natural predators. And more recently, we’ve taken another step toward greater sustainability, adding “islands of biodiversity” or hedgerows in the vineyard to harbor a healthy balance of insects, butterflies, and birds. We have planted about 50 small trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers, including yarrow, penstemon, rosemary, lavender (spelling corrected), ceonothus, pineapple guava, butterfly bush, olive, and pomegranate, and are thrilled to see them already starting to attract a crowd.

Crafting the Perfect Blend

A few months ago, we spent a day in the winery with a handful of Bink fans, who won a custom Pinot Noir blending session at a fundraising event. First, we started out with a sensory evaluation review session, tasting a few wines and tuning our palettes to flavors and aromas. Then, we tasted samples of three different Pinot Noir clones with varying barrel types and treatments (e.g., neutral or new barrels, varying toast levels). Everyone took notes on what they liked or didn’t about each sample. As Deb says, “you want to build a blend that stacks desirable characteristics to provide a complete package, from the aroma to the finish.”

Oftentimes, a clone and/or wood treatment has a few very desirable characteristics, but may not provide the level of interest or complexity that we’re looking for all on their own. As an example, the Wadensville 2A has strong floral notes and great structure, especially in the mid-palate, but doesn’t offer much fruit. On the other hand, the Pomard has beautiful fruit notes, but is much lighter in structure. The Domaine Romanee Conti suitcase clone has everything—great fruit, spiciness, and structure, with a long finish, but can often be very closed up front. Finding the right combination is a trial and error exercise, built over time, based on Deb’s knowledge of each of the components working with these clones. Using the DRC as a base, Deb generally adds a bit of Pomard to enhance the fruit flavors, and finishes off with a little 2A to add the floral component and mid palette structure.

What was interesting during the trial with our Bink friends is that the combination of their favorite three samples didn’t produce their favorite blend. It had too much of one thing they liked and not enough balance. In the end, they settled on a blend that surprised them, but it ended up being just the right combination.