In 1998, we were fortunate enough to find the Drake orchard directly on the river across from Guerneville. At the time, the property was planted to Rome apples, farmed by Roscoe Drake, who had followed his father into farming. Romes are a late ripening apple well suited to baby food and applesauce, which is what the Gerber company used them for until the plant closed. After checking with the pomology professor at Cornell, we were encouraged by Rome’s late season and concluded that Pinot Noir would excel in this location.
Guerneville, like other choice areas in the middle reach of the Russian River Valley, is cooled on summer nights by windborne fog, yet has sunny and very warm days. The former promotes slow ripening, good flavors and balanced acidity. The latter assures ripeness and full flavor maturation without any baked flavors typical of hot climate Pinots.
Next, we studied the soil types and, to our delight, found that the soil, Yolo Sandy Silt Loam, was identical to the soil found in many Grade A Russian River Valley Vineyards, like Rochioli and Allen, which are just across from the winery on Westside Road.
We decided that on this deep and well drained soil we should use a rootstock known as Couderc 3309 as the main stock, together with 110 Richter nearer the river on sandier soil.
For maximum quality, we want enough—but just enough—water to achieve fruit ripeness, without leaf and vegetative growth. To this end, we set up the irrigation system to ensure that each 2-acre block in the 34 acres could be irrigated separately.
You hear a lot about clones in Pinot Noir. Clones are biologically identical cuttings of grapes that all originate from one plant. There are now hundreds of types of Pinot Noir clones that vary slightly, but significantly, from each other. We had a lot of fun studying the ones we did not already know, and carefully considered which ones to add to our winemaking choices.
In the end, we used mainly the “house clone” of Williams Selyem, Pommard, named from its hometown in Burgundy. We decided to try several new Dijon clones, especially 667, 777 and 115. Further, we put in Canada, one of our favorite clones that came to us in New York almost 20 years ago. It is one of the 30 plus clones that we have tested over the years in both New York and California. We love it in New York, and in our Vista Verde Vineyard in the Central Coast near Hollister, CA. Finally, to add one more dimension to the palate, we chose the Bruce clone, selected by David Bruce in his vineyards in the Central Coast. We keep each wine separate by clone (and in one case a trellis experiment) so we can follow the flavor development and character as these plants mature. We are finding wonderful and exciting differences in these clones, which will allow us to craft ever more distinctive wines.