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That's what you can do

soil of serpentine Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Baby BlueBut answering your question as to what we did that was really pushing the envelope, there was planting at high density, knowing we were going to get low tonnage.  In addition to that, we planted clones that were very high risk, those that were not from certified virus-free vines.  I decided on that because I wanted to get budwood from phenomenal vineyards and was willing to do so even with the risk that it could be diseased.  For example, our Cabernet Franc budwood comes from [Bordeaux's Château] Cheval Blanc.  I got it through a tip from Daniel Roberts who had worked with Rex Geitner, the vineyard manager for Spring Mountain Vineyards who had, prior to that, spent some time working at Cheval Blanc.  So, my Cabernet Franc is the Geitner clone from the very budwood he brought back with him from their best vines.  The risk that I took with that is that it wasn't virus-tested.  If it actually does have any virus, it's not necessarily the end of the vines, but it would really cut back on their productivity and quality.  But so far, so good.  And I'm very excited because [that Cabernet Franc] really is special!  So those are all risks that I've been willing to take because I'm really pursuing the best that I can out here.  And some of those risks don't pay off; there were some parts of the vineyard that I had to replant because they did end up being virus-ridden.

NM:  Did the Bordeaux varietals that you ultimately settled on for the wines of Blue Rock stem directly from the discoveries you made in the process of replanting?

KK:  Absolutely! Now, when I bought the land, we originally had eleven different varietals planted in the vineyard: the Bordeaux five (Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec); Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Viognier, Syrah, and a couple of others.  Because in California, especially in an unknown area (as this was until relatively recently), you could plant whatever you like!  But then, of course, not all of it worked.  What we found was that the white varietals, especially, were not very distinctive here; they were okay, but it's just too warm for some of them.  Plus it was kind of a waste because the red Bordeaux varietals turned out so good, they just shined!  And the Syrah I wanted to plant because I just love Syrah!  {laughing}  And we got lucky there because it actually does very well on this property — the budwood originally came from Château Beaucastel, my favorite Châteauneuf-du-Pape!  It's just a small amount, only two acres.

NM:  How much of your original vineyard have you actually had to replant since you started ten years ago?  Would you say there's been a significant replanting, and if so, can you talk about the impact of that necessity on the overall business and direction of the brand?

"I wanted to get budwood from phenomenal vineyards and was willing to do so even with the risk that it could be diseased."

KK:  We've definitely had a significant replanting.  As the younger vines come into production, we always vinify them separately and then make an analysis as to whether they make the grade or not.  Based on that we actually started a second wine called Baby Blue that's from the young vines — an artisan-production wine that's from all estate-grown young vines and aged in all-French oak.  Having said that, we do have one block of young vines that blows everything away and that goes into the Blue Rock wine.  But my point is really that we make the decision to vinify everything separately.  And several times throughout the year, we check in on the different cuvées.  You can tell very early on whether something is going to make one grade vs. another.  And so we actually have three grades of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The first is our Best Barrel, which is extremely limited, made only in the best years, and amounts to only a couple of barrels.  Our criteria for it is that it has to be both different and better than anything else, something that absolutely stands out.  The second is Blue Rock, which is our all-estate, flagship wine.  It started out as 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but it's morphing since we might use some of the other Bordeaux varietals planted in the vineyard.  We will blend if it really adds to the wine, but we don't blend to be cute; we feel that the only reason to blend is if it really makes a better wine.  For example, the 2005 Blue Rock Cabernet has 6% of the estate Malbec in it, which has a real blueberry note and a very Merlot-like texture that softens the Cabernet.  Finally, the third level of our Cabernet is the Baby Blue that I mentioned.  Baby Blue is an unbelievably serious Cabernet — but one that's still at a very affordable price point.  It's being poured by the glass at Gramercy Tavern in New York, in addition to some other fantastic restaurant all over the country!  And it's been so well received by these restaurants because it's affordable on the one hand, but still very serious on the other — it's meant to blow away any by-the-glass restaurant wine.

NM:  Okay, so, two of your wines mention the color blue in their name.  I recall that when I first tasted your wines, you said that there's something very significant about the name Blue Rock and that it's directly correlated to the wine's style and character.  Can you say more about the wine's namesake?



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