The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 80 of 124

80 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2015/2016 Arroyo Seco's "Macho" Grower: J. LUIS ZABALA, ZABALA VINEYARDS More than two dozen producers stand in line each year for grapes from Zabala Vineyards, originally planted in 1972 between the Arroyo Seco River and the lower benchlands of Sierra de Salinas (part of the coastal Santa Lucia Range, upon which the neighboring Santa Lucia Highlands AVA sits). Like that of other Arroyo Seco sites, Zabala grapes retain high acidity even at higher sugars (24° to 25° Brix), with typically opulent flavors derived from skins thickened by the appellation's driving winds: gusts raging up to 26 knots (30 mph) during typical July/August afternoons. It is the soils in Zabala Vineyards, however, that distinguish Zabala among other Arroyo Seco vineyards. According to Mercy Vineyards winemaker/partner Mike Kohne, "Zabala's rocky, meager soils tend to give us lower cluster weights, giving us wines that balance lush flavor with deep intensity." Beneficiaries of a 1793 Spanish land grant, for defending the early Spanish missions along El Camino Real, the Zabala family at one time owned more than 250,000 acres of land in the vicinity of Salinas Valley. Seventh-generation grower J. Luis Zabala planted Chardonnay in his first 300 acres. The family business—now focused 100% on viticulture—has since grown to over 1,000 acres, specializing in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Syrah. Zabala tells us, "Before vineyards went in, much of the property was bare land— too rocky for growing row crops." Most of Zabala Vineyards is on Arroyo Seco (a coarse, rocky sandy loam) or Metz (sandy cobblestones with very little organic matter) series soils. One of Zabala's most interesting plantings is called the Macho Block, which got its name because of the huge, round, white cobblestones that always made the planting and cultivation of it only for the most "macho" vineyard workers. The soil in the Macho Block is in the Tujunga series—a sandy river rock soil, virtu - ally devoid of clay or organic material, looking very much like the galets roulés of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Zabala's Macho Block is planted to FPS (Foundation Plant Services) clones 04 and 05 Chardonnay, which are big production clones in most of California, but in the Macho Block yielding clusters of less than half the weight of elsewhere. Says Zabala, "Are wines from our vineyard different from other vineyards? I would say emphati - cally yes. This terroir gives Chardonnay a leaner, higher acid, austere expression. It is not enough to say that the Macho Block is rocky. It's more like an ankle-buster. Nobody grows in rocks like we do—at least not in this type of cold climate." Viticulture under Stress : BILL HAMMOND, PANORAMA VINEYARD Bill Hammond, Jackson Family Wines' Vice President of Farming, met up with us in the 415-acre Panorama Vineyard, located on the upper west side of the AVA, consisting of benchland slopes sandwiched between the Arroyo Seco River and what is known as the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. As with vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands, the Panorama site offers a sweeping view of Salinas Valley—with its miles and miles of row crops beneath the Gabilan Mountain Range— at its narrowest point. The significance of this location is the giant funnel effect: This is where the cool air sucked in from Monterey Bay blows at its briskest, ear-whistling pace during the growing season. Vines shut down when the wind kicks up in the afternoon, which explains why hang-time is extended a good two to three weeks longer than other cool coastal wine regions. Says Hammond, "Jackson Family purchased this vineyard in 2004, and we completely replanted it in 2006. The reason is Jess Jackson always considered Monterey to be a linchpin in our overall program—the key to growing our style of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir." Hammond, who has been managing vine - yards in California, Oregon, Washington and Bill Hammond, VP of Farming for Jackson Family Wines, in the Jackson Family's Panorama Vineyard. J. Luis Zabala in his Macho Block Chardonnay vineyard, with its characteristically rocky soils.

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