Vineyard – Page 3 – Matchbook Wines

Category: Vineyard



October 1st, 2013

The Hanging Curtain

by: Lane Giguiere

The Hungarian Hanging Curtain. That sounds like the title of a mystery novel or something trending on Pinterest. It is actually the name of a trellising technique we are experimenting with in some of our new Dunnigan Hills vineyards.

Let’s first define the Giguiere meaning of “experiment”. We are not talking about two rows or a half-acre sample plot. We have 110 acres devoted to a cutting edge technique that promises to raise quality and reduce the cost of farming our vineyards.

All grape trellising techniques are designed to achieve the same goal: to keep the vine in balance by controlling vigor, sunlight and temperature. Over the past 30 years, we have tried just about every trellis system invented and some we invented on our own. After much trial and error, we settled on two methods that have proven to work very well in our vineyards. What we use depends mostly on the varietal and to a lesser extent on the soil type. Chardonnay, tempranillo, malbec and graciano are on vertical shoot positioning (VSP). This is the most widely used trellising technique; one that can be seen on vineyard tours of California, Bordeaux and New Zealand. The vine canes are trained straight up and held in place by catch wires strung between the vine posts. For all of our syrah and the chardonnay in the Giguiere family’s JK Vineyard, we use a more modern system called Smart-Dyson. Two thirds of the canes are trained straight up and one third is curled down and held by catch wires close to the ground. The grape bunches on both the VSP and Smart-Dyson hang in a narrow, horizontal fruiting zone along the cordon. We manipulate the canopy by hand during the growing season to shade the fruit on the south side, open the fruit to dappled sunlight on the north side and allow the night breezes to cool the ripening grapes.

IMG_0062The Hungarian Hanging Curtain is a complete departure. The vines grow straight up a very tall stake, over six feet tall, and the canes are trained to drape down over a wire strung between the tall stakes. At first glance, our new vineyards could be mistaken for a field of hops. The long, loose curtain of leaves shades the fruit, but still allows air movement to keep things cool. The economic advantage is that the vines can be mechanically pruned. The quality play is that this method produces a wall of fruit with a lot of small clusters scattered down the drape. Because the fruit is not crowded together, the vineyard ripens at an even rate. And because the clusters are smaller the flavors are more concentrated and intense.

The first experimental acres are devoted completely to red varietals: 40 acres of petite sirah, 30 acres of petit verdot, 27 acres of cabernet sauvignon, 10 acres of tempranillo and 3 acres of tannat. We expect to harvest the rich and flavorful fruit in the fall of 2014.

September 23rd, 2013

Harvest Ends & Begins

by: Lane Giguiere

The last of the Dunnigan Hills fruit was crushed on Friday, September 20. The Musque chardonnay clone 809 growing in the Giguiere Family’s JK Vineyard finally turned golden and sweet signaling a “go” to harvest. The 60 tons of Musque fruit attracted a swarm of wasps at the crush pad putting the stamp of approval on the honey descriptor for that clone. We are breathing a sigh of relief – we finished harvesting one day ahead of the rain that blanketed Northern California.

Even as we finish harvesting the estate fruit, we are just beginning to harvest the Sonoma County fruit. 24 tons of Chalk Hill merlot arrived on the 20th from Cecil De Loach’s Sweetwater Ranch. The hand harvested grapes not only tasted great they looked beautiful. Perfect clusters and a pretty blue hue. This is the first year we have crushed the merlot at our Zamora winery. While Winemaker Dan Cederquist has always been offered the privilege to cherry-pick from Cecil’s best wine lots, we are happy to have complete control of all our Mossback fruit from harvest to bottling.

IMG_006850% of the Russian River Valley pinot noir is in the house and fermenting. The Siebert Vineyard and Gary Nelson fruit that came in last week looked better than the last few difficult years. Clean fruit. Delicious deep flavors. According to Dan and Winemaker Lacey Steffey, 2013 just may rival the 2008 and 2009 vintages. They have dubbed this “the year of intensity and concentration”.

Russian River chardonnay harvest was scheduled to start September 21, but Dan called it off due to the impending rain. He doesn’t expect the forecasted ½ inch to do any damage; it should just settle all the dust in the air. But the tiny bit of rain will plump up the grapes and he would like to give them a couple days to dry out a bit before harvesting.  We expect to hand harvest the Aquarius Vineyard and Gary Nelson Russian River chardonnay by the end of the week.

Cabernet sauvignon will be the last fruit to come into the winery this year. The Chalk Hill cab at Sweetwater Ranch is sitting at 23 degrees Brix right now. We are waiting for it to reach 24 or 24.5 degrees Brix before we pick. We like those numbers. We don’t want an overly sweet, overly alcoholic Cabernet Sauvignon.

Dan brought in a sample of the Lodi cabernet sauvignon grapes that we are buying this year for Sawbuck. They look gorgeous! This is excess fruit from a grower contracted to farm grapes for Coppola. This will be the last year we purchase cabernet for Sawbuck. Starting next year, all cabernet sauvignon for that brand will be from our new vineyards across the street from the winery.

There are 165,000 gallons of Dunnigan Hills juice fermenting at the winery. This includes a record 1,037 fermenting barrels of chardonnay. We expect that number to climb to 1,100 barrels by the time the Russian River chardonnay is crushed. The little bit of rain will give the cellar crew a chance to catch their breath and spend a few bucolic days on punch downs, pump overs, racking, and stirring barrels.

September 18th, 2012

Matchbook II

by: Lane Giguiere

When two shiny new red Kabota four-wheelers are parked in front of the winery, pure instinct compels a joy ride. Ok, joy ride is a little strong. These new vehicles are a far cry from the glossy magazine pictures of sleek, dirt-crusted racing bikes performing wheelies in the desert. Picture an oversized golf cart, with seat belts, driven by two elderly winery owners on a tour of their property in the Dunnigan Hills.

150 acres of the Matchbook ranch are undeveloped rolling hills. Current plans are to plant as much as possible into grapevines in spring 2013. The Kabota heist was to find out how much of the property is plantable. The discovery: about half. What looks like rolling hills from the road is actually a view across the top of the hills. The draws that run through the property carve steep canyons 100 feet deep at the eastern edge of the ranch. The view from the bottom of these canyons is quite spectacular. In late summer, the walls of golden grass topped by clear, blue sky give sudden insight into the University of California colors. The soil at the low point is heavy clay, the grass is thick and a small stream bed has developed at the center. The landscape completely changes at the top. The grass is thin, in some areas bald; the soil is mostly red gravel with outcroppings of sizable rocks. Not a lot is growing at the top. And that is where the vineyards will be planted.

This part of Matchbook ranch has not been farmed for over 20 years. The soil has been compacted from years of grazing livestock; new streams and watersheds have formed a natural path through the estate. 80 acres of hilltops surround the winery and while we love the view of the soft dry hills against the rugged Coast Range Mountains, we need the chardonnay for our expanding winery. The stream beds and canyon walls will be left alone to continue forming new wetlands. Groundwork begins in October.

July 18th, 2012

Veraison is Here

by: Dan Cederquist

We made it to veraison this weekend for our chardonnay and tempranillo. This photo was taken Friday afternoon in the tempranillo in D block.
I thought I would explain “veraison” for this blog post.

Veraison is the division of the two distinct phases of grape growth. In the first phase, cell division and expansion occur. The berries contain all the natural acids (tartaric, malic, citric,…etc) by the end of this phase. Tartaric is produced early on and malic at the end of phase 1. In the second phase, sugars start accumulating and malic acid starts degrading. Cell divisions stops, cell growth accelerates, berries soften and color up. Canes harden off or lignify, and we see some leaf senescence lower on the cane. Chlorophyll is broken down while anthocyanins (black grapes) and carotenoids (green grapes) are formed. Also, pyrazines (herbaceous characters) are degraded and fruity flavors accumulated and/or enhanced.

Whew!, too much chemistry for most people but that is the story. All in all, our vineyards look terrific, only 2 more blocks to hedge and mow and maybe a little color thinning if needed.

Until next time…

January 17th, 2012

Ground Control

by: Lane Giguiere

The most fascinating pieces of machinery at the winery these days have nothing to do with winemaking. Our new Favorite Things are the two giant Caterpillar D11Ns that are crawling back and forth across the neighboring 2,150 acres we just purchased.  These are the triple-XL of tractors and those big boys are suited up for work.

Two months ago, we purchased two parcels of land directly across the road from our Matchbook winery. Neither parcel has been farmed for the past 20-odd years, which, in a nutshell, tells the story of the economics of traditional farming in the Dunnigan Hills.  But in the past few years the economics of nut trees and, suddenly this year, of vineyards prompted us to expand our farming operation.  That’s where the giant Cats come in. As the land sat fallow, the ground compacted. Before we can plant anything, we need to do a little ground work.

Picture this project much like starting a garden in a brand new subdivision. The soil may have been good at one time, but now it looks like cement. This part of the Dunnigan Hills has nice red, rocky soil, which is perfect for good drainage, but in its current state it is, well, hard as a rock. Just as all the gardening books recommend double digging and a pile of compost for that brand new yard, we need to do the same thing, just on a very large scale. We have three mountainous piles in the middle of our new property: one that looks like black dust, one that looks like white chalk and one looks like dark, loamy soil. The black dust is actually ash that is the residue from processing rice hulls. It is not only filled with microbes and potassium, it’s free. Our favorite price point.  We begin all our vineyard developments by spreading the ash all over the ground. Then we fire up the pair of D11s, equip them with one enormous slip plow and rip the soil six feet deep. Three times. This is a slow, but essential effort and that deep plowing and the ash turn the hard tan ground into beautiful loose, black soil. That’s just step one. After smoothing out the rough edges, we lay out the planting rows with a GPS laser and spread gypsum (chalky, white calcium) and rich, loamy compost down each new vine row. This is all mixed in together to create a perfectly lovely little planting bed for the 500 acres of vines and 250 acres of olive trees to be planted in the spring.