In the 90s, after we tasted the stand-out success of Syrah, we planted a two acre test block of Mourvedre. After 10 years we concluded that the vineyard is too cold for the varietal – most years we failed to get it adequately ripe. We grafted the vines to Syrah.
Today, on the heels of three warm vintages and armed with new approaches to viticulture, Mourvedre is back up for discussion. If these warm growing seasons become the norm, we should be able to harvest Mourvedre immediately after Grenache.
Using techniques developed over two decades of experience at Stolpman, Ruben will approach Mourvedre much differently this time around. In early 2016 we will plant Mourvedre at high densities, head pruned – a training method designed to yield only a few clusters per vine. The lighter fruit load will enable the vines to ripen the grapes more quickly, hedging the risk of re-planting the notoriously late varietal.
The Highest High
The planned site has also been carefully selected: the highest elevation of the vineyard where the fog burns off earliest and an inversion layer provides slightly higher mid-day peak heat. These ridgelines also angle south, providing maximum sun exposure.
Living on the Edge
Like Roussanne, we believe Mourvedre will struggle to ripen in Ballard Canyon even with the aid of gradually warmer vintages. This thin margin creates an opportunity to create great wine. Sugars will not rise quickly, allowing for complex flavors to develop and freshness to remain. Ballard Canyon’s cold, pacific exposed nights will result in harvests well after Europe’s Mourvedre vineyards.
Like every big decision in the Vineyard, we won’t know if this gamble will pay off for years. The first vintage will be picked in 2018 and will be bottled in 2020. Now that we have decided to plant Mourvedre again, the next question will be whether or not to co-ferment or blend Grenache and Syrah with it or make a monocepage Mourvedre.