The springtime provides a great opportunity to check out all of our viticultural experimentation as the bushy canopy has yet to block out all the new detailed changes La Cuadrilla has been busy implementing. Kari and I spent an afternoon hiking the hills of the vineyard, but this photo-blog shows off Ruben’s brain, not just the vineyard’s beauty! A huge factor in why Stolpman’s wines are so uniquely delicious often gets lost in technical gibberish.
We started at our picnic area to see the 1 year old “mast block” Grenache vigorously throwing up a big crop of tiny clusters. The young vines are a bit too aggressive right now and La Cuadrilla will be snipping off the vast majority of clusters to guarantee even ripening.
The Mast block is named after the three horizontal bars, the widest at the bottom and the narrowest on top. The bars make the uprights resemble an old sailing ship mast, with the vine canopy growing up where the sails would be billowing.
Ruben developed this method because simply put, Grenache isn’t as tough as Syrah. Syrah is ideally suited to our vineyard because it loves to get beat up. The more the Syrah vine struggles, the more dynamic a wine it will produce.
Grenache is the more delicate, thin skinned cousin, and in our vineyard, the grape gets sun-burned in the summer, and struggles to ripen due to the cold nights. Ruben’s solution was to build a trellising system that would form a triangular tent to protect the Grenache from the sun during the day. The fruit is then insulated by the radiant heat of the vine canopy, making the diurnal swing a little less extreme. After all, our Grenache vines’ heritage stems from the more mild rolling hills of the Chateau Neuf du Pape region of the Southern Rhone where our Syrah’s character was chiseled on the extremely steep hillsides of Cote Rotie with the Mistral storms blowing down upon them. The night-time radiant heat from the Mast Block vines mimicks the absorbed heat in Chateau Neuf du Pape’s famous dark stones.
Next to the Mast Block lies some younger Roussanne vines that one day aspire to produce L’Avion worthy grapes. The newer block is clearly differentiated from the older Sangiovese vines in the background because we have decided to use lower fruiting wires on our new plantings. The older Sangiovese is trained 18 inches higher than the young Roussanne. Our thought is that because we are starving our vines, forcing them to yield tiny, concentrated, and dynamic grapes; lowering the fruit level makes it a little bit easier for the vines to pump the tiny bits of moisture and nutrients up a shorter trunk to ripen the crop. The other benefit of a lower fruiting wire is that we have more vertical space to train the canopy. After all, we’re limited by how tall we are, and unfortunately, none of the Cuadrilla members are 6’3″ like me!
The Stolpman Super Clone-
It’s great to show off the new growth in the Stolpman Super Clone block, that I first snapped photos of in my first Battle for Syrah blog. Those little leaves look nice and healthy and we’ll be picking fruit off of these vines in 17 months. These cuttings were just sticks in the ground two months ago, but special sticks. We took these cuttings from only the perfect vines La Cuadrilla had marked last year.
Over the hill of Stolpman Super Clone we next stopped at a slightly older block of own-rooted, customized syrah. This section of Block 5 was planted in 2007 and has been producing great juice for a couple years now. Ruben threw out the conventional farming book and varied the vine spacing depending on the soil’s fertility. Down here at the bottom of the hills, Ruben stacked vines only 1 foot apart to force them to fight each other for nutrients. Up on the hilltops where there is barely any top soil, the vines are spaced 2.5 feet apart to give the plants a chance to breathe.
The Block 5 own rooted section is further divided between clonal selections. The northern rows were all propagated from our “Originals” Estrella River block. These vines’ grandparents were taken from Australia to Paso Robles 60 years ago by Eberle Winery. Zaca Mesa than planted the Originals’ parents from Eberle Cuttings, and named it their Black Bear Block. This new Estrella River block is therefore 4th generation American.
A lot of visitors ask us “what’s wrong with that hill?” when they see Block 2 Syrah at the head of L’Avion runway block. From a far, it looks a bit “patchy”. La Cuadrilla is actually transitioning this block from the traditional 3 foot tall fruit wires to lower wires, adapted to our dry farming starvation viticultural technique. The patchy plants are actually the higher vines that Cuadrilla has yet to succesfully sucker a new, lower fruiting wire.
We finished the walk with our newer Sauvignon Blanc block where we are using wider, quadralateral spaced trellising similar to the Grenache Mast Block. Here, however, this technique is used to control the naturally high vigor of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal.