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NM: Sure, they were thinking more pragmatically, focusing on getting clearing of the rock out of here. Now, speaking of rock, is that where the name VinRoc comes from?
MP: Oh, yeah. You have to understand that we dealt with rock since day one. When we put in the vineyard, we joked that with every rock we pulled out, two grew back! Although it's hard to see with the cover crop, the vineyard is extremely rocky. We moved a lot of rock out of there, but the soil is still extremely rocky. And so rock was part of the consciousness of our efforts from the get go — everything we've done, we had to deal with rock. Certainly, then, it came full circle when we dug through solid rock to create the winery. VinRoc became the obvious choice [for a name]. And that's also why the name includes 'wine caves' — it's a significant part of our story that we have this facility here, a cave built into the rock.
NM: Rock is also a significant part of the story for the style of the wine itself. Tell me more about and the vineyard's stony soil, and the Napa Cabernet that you ultimately produce from it.
MP: We're extremely respectful of the fact that it all starts down in the vineyard. We never have to worry about stressing the vines, and it's a perfect balance with having just enough of the right things: a great southwest-facing exposure, our location just above the fog belt, long hours of sunlight, cooler temperatures at night. Everything just fits into place perfectly. And all those great things balance with the rocky conditions and the fact that the soil doesn't have a lot of nutrients so that the vines really have to struggle. On the vines, that results in very small berries with intense flavors, structure, and character that we select and pick only a ton at a time. And we treat the fruit very gently throughout the entire process — we sort the fruit, we don't pump the must in big tanks, and we ferment one ton at a time. It's all part of what we decided we wanted to do, to make real quality-driven wine. It makes no sense for me to even try to be a mid-sized winery. And so if I'm going to be a small production winery, well under a thousand cases, then what's the point of making just an 'okay' wine? There's really only one choice: if you're going to make 500 cases, why not go and make the very best wine you can?
NM: So, your first commercially-released vintage was 2004, making the current release your second, and the upcoming 2006 vintage your third. Has there been anything really significant you've learned thus far in the span of only those two vintages?
MP: What we learned was that we've really been guided. I cannot look back and tell you that we did all these things because we knew that it was the right way to go. It was more like divine providence or something guiding how things evolved and turned out. There's very little that I would do differently, but I wasn't really sure about anything going into it. With everything that we did, as I look back, we ended up doing the right thing. The only slight difference, as the vines mature, has been our decision to try to go a little riper and fuller. And that's just because it would help soften the tannins a little bit; up here [on the hillside] we have such tannic wines…
NM: And there's also the acidity…
"It's a perfect balance with having just enough of the right things: a great southwest-facing exposure, our location just above the fog belt, long hours of sunlight, cooler temperatures at night. Everything just fits into place perfectly."
MP: …yes, which balances it all much better. So, we'll probably go a little bit riper [in future vintages]. But it'll only be a fractional difference. And we see a lot of consistency: '05 was the most tannic and the biggest, though we've had great response to it; but with '06, '07, '08 there's a nice consistency. And I think it's because the way we are harvesting — a ton at a time — allows us to get the grapes uniformly ripe and though maybe from year to year there were some differences, it helped us balance out those differences. Because of the way the vineyard matured, we picked a little later last year, and we were able to still harvest another section that was ready because we don't have to harvest all at once. But none of this was planned. I was thinking we were going to have to buy [large fermentation] tanks, not knowing exactly what some of the options were. And I had it in the back of my mind this idea [of harvesting and fermenting small lots], but I thought, "Nah, nobody does that." Sure, a lot of custom-crush places have all these little batches of wine that they're making, but I didn't think that made sense to do what we wanted to do and figured we should buy a big stainless steel [fermentation] tank. But when I started talking to some people, they said it was actually a great idea to keep everything separate and ferment the grapes in my small one-ton bins.