Anytime I taste a Washington wine I also try to taste its place, its terroir and its history. I like to see if I can taste the characteristics of its climate, it soil, even its canopy management. Did it grow in basalt soil? Loess? How was it trellised? Was it leaf stripped in the summer? Is it an old vine? Did it know William B. Bridgman, the grandfather of the modern WA wine industry? Was it grown where apple trees once grew? Did it grow on land crossed by Lewis & Clark on their way to the Pacific Ocean?
The first formal class I took, in my pursuit of wine knowledge was viticulture. Viticulture is basically the study of growing grapes. When those grapes are going to end up in wine, viticulture is sometimes called viniculture. Viticulture seemed the right place to start. After all, first you must grow the grapes. Growing up in a midwest farming community I am very familiar with large scale agriculture. My own family had a huge garden for growing fresh vegetables and putting up food for the year. I wanted to learn how the science of grape growing for wine compared to my own agricultural experiences. As intrigued as I am with what is in the glass, I am as equally intrigued with where it starts – the vineyard, the vine.
For the next year I am excited to be following two Washington grapevines growing in two different parts of Washington state. Each month I will post new photos and information on the status of the two vines. May I introduce the vines – Hollywood, a Pinot Noir grapevine growing in western Washington and DuBrul, a Cabernet Sauvignon grapevine growing in eastern Washington.
Hollywood is 7 years old and resides in the countryside of Woodinville at Hollywood Hill Vineyards. Since 2004, it has enjoyed being part of this vineyard along with Chardonnay, Regent, St. Laurent, Zeigelt, Pinot Gris, Ehrenfelsen and Auxerrois grape varieties. The row, in which Hollywood resides, runs north and south, cutting across the slope that runs east to west.
Hollywood’s fruit becomes an estate bottled wine. The early vintages were rosé wines. The 2009 vintage, currently resting in barrel, will be a full red wine carrying the Puget Sound AVA designation.
Pruning started in the vineyard in January. Hollywood and its row mates were not pruned until late February, after the pictures were taken. Because of the unusually warm and sunny days in Woodinville, the vines are showing a bit of fuzz and weeping.
DuBrul is a Cabernet Sauvignon vine, living in DuBrul Vineyard since 1992. For 19 years, this vine has enjoyed a bit of altitude in a row that runs north to south, eventually sloping to the south. DuBrul is an end vine with great responsibility to the other vines in the row to set the tone. Other vines in the vineyard include Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling. While many of the vines are committed to other winemakers, DuBrul’s fruit becomes an estate wine for Cote Bonneville proudly bearing the Yakima Valley AVA designation.
Right now DuBrul is sporting its shaggy winter look. Pruning will most likely happen in March. Every year the same team of ladies work the entire vineyard. Familiar hands will trim back the canes creating spurs for this year’s growth.
Down to the roots
The vines are different varietals and also grow from different styles of rootstock. Hollywood rests on grafted rootstock. Pinot Noir Clone 667 grafted onto American rootstock was chosen because the American rootstock will not grow as deep. The American rootstock effectively de-vigorates the vine, helping to shorten the time needed to ripen the fruit. The grafting joint is several inches above ground and the tell-tale bulge is quite obvious. DuBrul, on the other hand, grows on its own roostock, a style known as ‘own-rooted’. Compare the pictures below.
Join me and follow Hollywood and DuBrul for the next year and see for yourself where that glass of wine starts.
Many thanks to Steve and Becky Snyder of Hollywood Hill Vineyards and Hugh, Kathy and Kerry Shiels of DuBrul Vineyard for not slamming the door when I approached them with this idea and, in fact, getting excited. I am grateful that they welcomed me into their vineyards this month and for the next twelve months.