Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Split Rail Vineyard

When Stefania and I first started making wine we really wanted to make a Syarh. It's a grape both of us enjoy a great deal and we probably buy more Syrah than any other type of wine. In 2004 and 2005 I searched the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley for a good source of grapes. I kept running into roadblocks. I rejected many vineyards I checked on. Either the farming was not to our very high standards or the location wouldn't yield the type of balance we were after.

When I did find a vineyard I liked I kept hearing the same thing; "We don't have any grapes for sale." That eventually lead us outside of the area and to Eaglepoint Ranch, which offered the high level of farming we demand and a great mountain location that would give us balanced complex fruit. I've kept my ears open though and kept exploring locally for a good Syrah source.

Last year our friend Ian Brand let me know he had taken over a small Syrah vineyard and I was welcome to buy the fruit if I'd like. I knew Ian's farming would be high quality, and the location promised great fruit. We took it last year as an experiment. If we were not happy with the way the wine was going, I could use it in the Haut Tubee or sell it off.

Well we've been very happy, and everyone who has tried the wine from barrel has loved it. This morning Stef and I were out of the house early to meet with Ian at the Vineyard and check on progress. We would have to drive over to Santa Cruz, so on this hot sunny day we needed to be on the road before 8 AM to avoid the bumper to bumper beach traffic that would happen later in the morning.

We arrived on site right at 9AM. Located high on the western slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the vineyard was once a source for David Bruce's Chardonnay. Ten years ago it was grafted over to Syrah. The vines are over 20 years old. This is the view from the edge of the vineyard looking out at Aptos and the Monterey Bay.

Ian wanted to check that he'd done everything as I'd asked for this season. First I asked him to prune to our regular two shoots per spur 8-10 inches between spur protocol. That means yield in this vineyard will drop to about 1 1/2 tons per acre, but I offered to pay him by the acre rather than by the ton.

The vineyard is also dry farmed, no added water and the ground is not plowed as we do in our other vineyards. All of these things reduce yield and increase the flavor in the remaining grapes. I also like the increased air flow our pruning does, which reduces mildew pressure and means fewer treatments. There is also an increase in sun on the fruit clusters which helps get the grapes through the citrus flavor stages and to the flavors of berries, plums and cherries.

The entire vineyard is surrounded by hand split redwood rails produced on the property. That's where the name comes from 'Split Rail Vineyard'. Our production from this site will be very small. We will have just 50 cases of the 2009, and are expecting only 50-100 on average each year. It does finally give us a high quality Syrah location close to home though, and we're very excited by this vineyard.

After our visit we stopped for breakfast at a local coffee shop then headed across the parking lot to a Goodwill store. I get asked often on my preference for decanters and my answer is 'cheap'. All you really need is a container with a hole on the top. Jerry Anderson likes to use a Mason jar. I prefer to check the glass section at Goodwill stores. This 1070's era ship decanter set me back $7.

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