The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 81 of 124

{ }  81 Full, Awesome Fruit Spectrums: KARL D. WENTE, RIVA RANCH Wente Vineyards' Fifth Generation Winegrower Karl D. Wente stood on his family's steep hilltop Bailey's Hill block, overlooking the oldest section of their Riva Ranch, which has grown to over 1,000 acres of planted vines over the past half-century. "We still cultivate much of our original plantings," says Wente, "even though they are on their last legs, including 50 acres of 53-year-old Chardonnay on AxR1, still producing as much as 3.5 tons/acre. We have blocks of 40- to 45-year-old Pinot Noir and Riesling. We also have plantings of the same that are less than ten years old, including 50 acres of Chardonnay planted on their own roots just three years ago. "Everything that comes off the vineyard, I like. Old vine, young vine. Pommard clones, Martini clones, Dijon clones of Pinot Noir and even old Gamay Beaujolais clones—they all have an impact on what we get out of Riva Ranch." Which brought up the subject of Pinot Noir—one of the more underrated varietals (along with Syrah and Riesling) grown in Arroyo Seco. Says Wente, "I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the profiles we get from the region, since everything you do in the winery also has an impact. We have nine types of fermenters in the winery, which gives us nine styles of Pinot Noir. "All I can say is that Pinot Noir in Arroyo Seco is classic in the sense that it has that intangible beauty of fruit qualities, with that forest floor sort of thing. We get varietal typicity here, and very bold structure. But we also get Pinot Noir with a real sense of 'yumminess"—textural physical sensations, ample, solid, silky at the same time. As for Chardonnay, Wente tell us, "You get the full, awesome fruit spectrum of Chardonnay in Arroyo Seco—pineapple, mango, apple, pear, a little minerality. We could probably bring out more of the mineral character by picking a little earlier, but we choose to emphasize the opulent side of the grape by picking above 23° Brix. It's always the myriad of decisions you make in the vineyard and what you do with the fruit in the winery that matters; but suffice to say, this region has always given us more than enough to work with." Chile for Jackson Family for 19 years, brings the weight of his global experience when he tells us, "We also do cold-climate grape growing in places like Santa Barbara, Anderson Valley and Willamette Valley. The difference here is moderate winters lead to earlier bud break, in mid-March, but the last of our Chardonnay usually doesn't come off the vine until mid- October, nearly a month after other places." "When we replanted we went to 4- to 4.5- foot by 3-foot spacing – probably the largest single high-density planting in America. The goal was to reduce berry and cluster weights, which is what we get. The higher the skin-to- juice ratio, the higher the fruit concentration and acid retention. Tight spacing slows down the ripening curve even further. The hillside exposure, on 200- to 700-foot elevations, gives us plenty of sun. Vines are able to fill in canopies quickly, which optimizes flavor matu - ration in fruit. "We're right next to Santa Lucia Highlands, and share the similar soil types. It's generally thought that Arroyo Seco is slightly warmer than Santa Lucia Highlands, but Arroyo Seco is definitely windier. In simplest terms, I would define Arroyo Seco viticulture as 'growing vines under a lot of stress.' Stress yields smaller berries, more intensity. You get bold mouth - feels, but don't worry about acidity. Lush fruit tones, mild earth components—everything adds up here in Arroyo Seco." Fifth Generation Winemaker Karl D. Wente, standing on Bailey Hill's overlooking Wente Vineyards' Riva Ranch and the western edge of the Arroyo Seco AVA.

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