Ballard Canyon: Ruben Solorzano’s Wild Empire

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Beautiful Weeds

In early spring the vineyard lies covered in an array of weeds speckled with bright mustard and purple lupine. La Cuadrilla moves through the chest high forest concentrating only on pruning. Ruben and the team take great pride in the wild appearance of the land.

We leave the weeds and planted pea-shoot cover crop until the forecast indicates an end to winter rain. The vineyard is only weeded one time annually. First, the tractors disc the cover crop straight down the rows. Second our mechanical weeder churns out growth in between trunks and posts. Finally, La Cuadrilla goes in by hand, with hoes. The process is intentionally imperfect: a few leftover weeds will force further competition for young vines, motivating them to grow deeper.

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Because the majority of the vineyard will not receive water again until November, once we act, there will be no more weed growth for the rest of the year.

The Alternative
Inexplicably, many farmers have already sprayed Roundup by February, leaving a sterile bald strip neatly under the vine rows. These same vintners will continue to irrigate through the summer, and will spray Roundup again and again to kill the very weeds they are watering.

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Farming

Ruben Solorzano concentrates his efforts on actions that improve wine quality. Weeding midwinter has no impact on wine quality. A great vineyard doesn’t necessarily look like a rose garden. Acts like hedging often detract from wine quality by exposing clusters to the sun. Furthermore, every additional tractor pass further compacts the soil, negatively impacting the ecosystem. In our case, we want the clay topsoil loose to absorb moisture from the fog and retain cold nighttime temperatures.

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The Bigger Picture

A key reason for Ballard Canyon’s rise to the top echelon of American Viticultural Areas rarely fetches media attention, nor would it be understood by the majority of the wine drinking public. Not only are the vineyards in Ballard Canyon small and family-owned, the winemakers passionate and artisanal-oriented; but one man now dictates viticultural methodology across the majority of planted acreage.

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Stolpman Vineyard Manager Ruben Solorzano now oversees not only Stolpman but most of our closest neighbors. Ruben manages Jonata, facing us upwind, as well as the vineyards directly north, Harrison Clarke, and south, Rusack. Beckmen Purisma Mountain, which also shares a border with us, recently received Biodynamic certification, further assurance that Stolpman won’t receive any blow over.

Fostering a healthy ecosystem for the vines rather than lazily spraying Roundup is the first indication of a vineyard’s dedication to quality. The fact that Ruben and his family live surrounded by our vineyard leaves no question. Ruben is going to do everything right, everything wild.