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vertical vineyard Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

MG:  Yes, and we're still doing that research.  That's the ongoing job of grape-growing and really what makes it all so interesting in the long run.  It takes many, many years to figure out what it all means — because you're never really dealing with a reproducible set of circumstances; every vintage is different.  Right when you think you've got something figured out, you get a different climatic pattern or whatnot, and things get flipped around.  That's just the nature of the beast.  But the thing is, you don't come up with an answer at the time you pick your grapes; after you pick them, you do your fermentations, you make the wine, you bottle it, and then it takes a certain amount of time for it to come together in the bottle before you can get a sense [of how the characteristics of the grapes from different parcels of the vineyard manifest themselves].  It's only now that I feel like I'm just getting a pretty good handle on the '04 vintage.  So, it's this constant, slow evolution.  And I think the challenge to good viticulture and winemaking is to maintain your focus and vigilance throughout that slow, steady process — because it's easy and tempting to let go and forget the details since that process isn't happening quickly.

NM:  You've been making wine for quite some time now, from other vineyards and for other producers.  With this particular site, what have you learned that has provided a real springboard for your own professional growth as a winemaker?  What has this site taught you that was significantly new and perhaps even forced you to rethink or re-evaluate prior knowledge or assumptions?

MG:  All of the talk that we always have as winemakers, about the importance of a site and the effects that its aspects (soil, exposure, elevation, etc.) have on grapevines — I see all that in a very clear way here on this vineyard.  I see it all here every year; it's such an extremely variegated vineyard that those differences are clear right here.  And that makes me re-evaluate more uniform vineyards, say, on the valley floor.  I'm realizing that I shouldn't just take for granted that any one of them is a single contiguous block — in fact, it's a rare vineyard that's truly uniform across the whole block.  So, what I've seen and learned here makes me want to look more closely at other vineyards that might seem more uniform to see if there are nuances within them.  It makes it a very clear imperative that doing so is potentially worth the effort — that is, of course, in the better quality vineyards that are managed with the aim of making better quality wine.  Certainly, there are plenty of wines you might make where you're not shooting for that high level, so it would be a waste of energy to manage their vineyards accordingly.  But if you're aiming to make a very good quality wine, then you've absolutely got to give it that level of thought and care.

Hidden Ridge Panorama

NM:  So, in a sense, the vineyard here at Hidden Ridge has presented you with a viticultural microcosm in many ways.

MG:  Yeah, that's right — a microcosm of what my job is as a winemaker, how I want to interact with a grapegrower, and how I want my work to evolve and represent what's out here in the vineyard.  This inspires me to want to try to bring out those differences.  Because I think it's exciting.  And for me to get excited about a vineyard at this point in my life, it's got to be a very special vineyard.  Not that I'm jaded, but it's just the reality that when you see a lot of vineyards, over time they start to fall into categories.  This one is really in its own category.  It's inspirational in that regard; it makes me want to try to bring those things out in a way that the general public can appreciate, understand, and enjoy it at the same level that I can.

NM:  Do you feel that the quality and extent of the learning that you've gained in working with this specific vineyard has forced you to re-evaluate at least some of the textbook knowledge that you learned academically early on?

MG:  Well, the reality is that I've so long ago buried that academic knowledge.  Perhaps it's a fault of mine, but I really don't take it back to that level very much.  A lot of this has become instinct.  And that's both good and bad.  It's good in the sense that it allows me to deal with a large number of different projects with far greater variety, because I don't have to give each one the academic thought that I might otherwise.  But on the other hand, sure, there might still be value in taking it back to that level.  Though, frankly, I wasn't that good a student.  {chuckling}



 

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