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Winegrower Pushes Limits on Mayacamas Mountains to Accomplish Viticultural Feat
— An Interview with the Owners and Winemaker of Hidden Ridge Vineyard —
With vine rows reaching gradiant slopes as steep as 55%, health Hidden Ridge Vineyard is, help without a doubt, an anomaly among grapegrowing properties in the United States. The creative scheme and audacious endeavor of owners Lynn Hofacket and Casidy Ward, it also boasts some of the densest planting of grapevines found on any hillside site. In pushing the envelope of agricultural development, the couple have gloriously succeeded in creating not only a visual spectacle but, more importantly, a superb source of mountain grown Cabernet Sauvignon whose production into quality-driven wine is overseen by their consulting winemaker, Marco DiGiulio. I met with the three of them for a private tour of this stunning vineyard located on a ridge at the Napa/Sonoma border, and just as the dense morning fog began to lift, I was afforded the full impact of this viticultural feat, with breathtaking vistas as a backdrop.
Dovetailing with its striking aesthetics — one for which photographs can unfortunately do very little justice — Hidden Ridge also serves as a broad canvas in the context of winemaking. On top of the typical advantages of mountainside vineyards in the production of high quality fruit, this particular site bears a unique soil structure and a dizzying array of blocks to choose from in the process of ultimately vinifying its winegrapes. These qualities, in addition to the numerous clones of Cabernet Sauvignon that are cultivated here, provide for a diverse palette from which its winemaker chooses in creating what amounts to a super-premium wine of alluring complexity and bright fruit character. All the more enlightening was to learn of the direct relationship between the wine's qualities and the vineyard's unique topography.
NM: This is, far and away, the most stunning vineyard I have ever seen! What's immediately striking is the terracing on these steep hillsides and the fact that the vines are planted to such a high density.
CW: We looked at a lot of different terraced vineyards before we decided how to do our own terraces. And so, we decided that we needed to get more vine density both vertically and horizontally, because some of the ones we saw were so sparsely planted that it didn't look like it would be economic to do ours in the same way. So Lynn did a lot of research into it by talking to people and looking at vineyards, and then came up with a couple of things that were different.
LH: The terraces are basically just roads alongside the mountain; shelf roads is what they are. What the engineers wanted to do was to keep a 2:1 on the terrace faces, which in a lot of cases couldn't be done, so they would have ended up with 300-350 vines to the acre: "We'll only get a ton to the acre," they told me. Well, that's no surprise — [with the way they wanted to plant] we wouldn't have had many vines! But I figured we've got to have 1,000 vines to the acre, which is essentially very high density for a mountain vineyard. And in the end, in some parts we got that and in others we didn't. But our goal in developing this was to get as many vines in the ground as possible — whatever it took to get that! I stood there during every part of the project and asked, "How can we get more vines into the ground?" The engineers would come back and say, "You can't put the rows close together like that!" And I would say, "Why can't I?!" Job #1 was to get as many vines in the ground as possible, whatever it took to do that, and regardless of how steep it was. In fact, some of these vine rows are steeper than you'll ever see anywhere up and down a hill, except for maybe the Mosel region.