The Supremacy of Site

On my most recent walk of the vineyard, just the other evening, I was floored by the extent of shoot growth in our Bordeaux varieties. Looking around the Santa Ynez Valley, I’m only seeing a centimeter or two of growth in the earliest Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot sites; whereas at Baehner Fournier we have as much as 4 to six inches of growth in our most advanced vines. It is an instance like this that reminds me of just how unique our site is.

Extremely isolated from other vineyards in the area and perched upon a peebbly hillside in the northeastern end of the Valley, the vineyard is whipped by winds coming from all directions, and can be relatively cool during the day due to ferocious, moderating winds. Meanwhile, insofar as the vineyard often finds itself above the inversion layer, we remain fairly warm at night and experience a remarkable amount of shoot growth during the wee hours. Sometimes I think I can actually hear the young shoots growing.

Similar conditions often prevail during harvest, finding the vineyard several degrees warmer than the surrounding lower portions of the Santa Ynez Valley. This evening warmth during the final ripening stages of the grapes is part of what brings silky tannins to our wines. It is common logic that, when the temperature drops below 50 degress Fahrenheit, metabolism stops in the vine. These conditions typically prevail in the Valley and this is part of why Bordeaux varieties from here have often been accused of being hard or green. Meanwhile, when nighttime temperatures remain on the warmer side of 50, the vines will stay active and continue to gradually ripen their fruit, softening tannins and respiring tart acids.

The Baehner Fournier vineyard, because of its location above the inversion layer, benefits from such nighttime ripening. It is a significant contributing factor to our unique terroir and has much to do with the depth and lushness of our wines. I love being reminded in instances like these—-early season shoot growth, for example—–how the supremacy of site will mark the character of a wine so signicantly.

April 6, 2012

Nick de Luca