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LH: And this vineyard is actually not that terribly difficult to farm. By and large, we dry-farm. When there are heat spells, we'll irrigate; but normally we don't. So [because of the water limitation], the shoots will grow up to about three or four feet, and then start concentrating on the fruit. Whereas on the valley floor, if you look at those vineyards, they're all perfectly hedged [at the vine-tops] out of an effort to de-vigorate them. But we don't have to deal with that here. As you can tell, we're not trying to make this look like a golf course; we don't do a lot of landscaping. With all the weeds growing between the vines and the bugs they attract, we have a certain amount of biodiversity that keeps everything in balance, keeps things healthy, and even de-vigorates the vines some.
MG: If I didn't feel like the fruit quality was exceptional, I wouldn't go through the effort.
NM: How did the decisions you made early on in establishing the vineyard influence the ultimate quality of the resulting fruit and really help set you apart?
LH: We had the advantage of having no history. We didn't come here to make a name. But with most of the folks that I talked to who are into the boutique wines, that's their world and that's what they want — that name. We weren't interested in that. And as a result, we didn't have an iron in the fire, we were just looking at it with new eyes and no past history or preconceived notions. And because of all that, we did a lot of things differently here that saved us a lot of money. For instance, we planted only clones of Cabernet Sauvignon — we didn't plant any of the other Bordeaux Five varietals. I had gone to a benchland vineyard down in Napa that had some clones — 337, 169, and 4 — and there was so much difference [in flavor and character] among them that, rather than go with different varietals, I would just focus on the clones. Now, what other growers are doing that? Not many. But if I had had preconceived ideas or a history or a reputation, I probably wouldn't have gone that route.
MG: Clones are a nice variable to introduce into a bigger property like this one. But I would argue, in my experience, anyway, that they have far less of an impact on the ultimate wine quality than do site and cultivation techniques. If you farm everything at a high level and you're in a good spot, then having the clones offers just that extra bit of variability to make your wines perhaps a bit more complex. But ultimately, the effects of picking a better spot and farming it in a better way is going to far outweigh those differences. With that said, though, I'm certainly glad that Lynn did what he did.
LH: The other thing is, as everyone in the business knows, Cabernet is much easier to grow.
"Rather than go with different varietals, we focus on the clones. What other growers are doing that? Not many."
MG: From a pure viticultural standpoint, Cabernet Sauvignon is a very hardy grape. It's very forgiving. You get a much broader range of what works with Cabernet. And that's part of what allowed Lynn to take the chances he did in putting in this vineyard.
NM: Ahhh, now it's making a lot of sense! Because, Lynn, you were already taking a great deal of risk to begin with in developing this terrain with grapevines, so you didn't want to further compound that risk by planting any grape varieties with, shall we say, more questionable temperaments — ones with stricter requirements for soil or climate or moisture.
LH: To be perfectly honest, too, all you need to do is go into a wine store and check bottle prices. We had Mark Aubert looking at this early on when we were just selling grapes, and he said, "There'd be no problem making a $70 Chardonnay off of this vineyard." Which is true. But that's the equivalent of a $140 Cabernet! And it's easier to grow the Cabernet than it is the Chardonnay.
NM: And I'll add to that: it'll be easier to sell the $140 Cabernet than the $70 Chardonnay!
LH: Marco's always told us, "The reason I like you guys is because you get it. And that's because you understand that, in the end, this is a business." It's a business. If you don't any return off this, it may be fun, but there's not a whole lot of point.
NM: Yes, absolutely. I understand that. There's a romantic notion around growing vines and making wines, but the reality is that it's still a business.