I had a long conversation with one of our vineyard managers last night that bordered on reverie. Andrew Shultz is the viticulturists at Hattrup Farms which includes both Elephant Mountain Vineyard and Sugar Loaf Vineyard in Rattlesnake Hills. We get all of our fruit for our red Rhones from these vineyards and many of our Bordeauxs. The wines attributed to Andrew’s work as a grower include our Double Gold winners Moth Love and Atticus, and our frequent Gold medal winner 7 Gables. Needless to say, our relationship with Andrew and the owner, Joe Hattrup, has become essential to making excellent wine.
One thing that Andrew understands is that the vineyard has a feel to it, like a living, breathing thing. He would never say such a hippie-dippy thing, but he eludes to it all the time. He grows using all of the data and latest scientific research available but he understands that at the end of the day, decisions are made in the culmination of information and gut instinct. He says his art is in the decisions he makes daily. Being able to observe and analyze a vine and guess its needs, as well as her sisters’ lined up in a row and gathered in a block requires mindful artfulness and a passionate commitment to excellence. His goal is consistent varietal typicity with nuanced vintage expression.
Andrew tells me quite proudly of his water management this year. He has many blocks that require no leaf thinning and the canopies have already shut down. He wants the canopy to shut down so that the vines will put energy into the grapes. This helps with acid maintenance and even ripening. Water management on this level requires the skill of a shaman. Predicting water loads in the soil, water shortages, rainfall and expected heat is no easy task. It requires artful guessing. As does crop load predictions, veraison predictions, and harvest. Again, artful decisions.
I appreciate growers who find the art in their work. Excellent wine is truly made in the vineyard, and growers who are willing to partner with the vines, the soil and the sun are walking an intrepid path. The fruit becomes its full potential with a strong voice under this kind of care.
I want to make wine that has a voice; the grapes tell me what they want to become. I have no interest in forcing a style on the grapes beholden to scores or critics, but rather to escort the fruit into a dance with yeast and time. Sometimes the artistry of looking for varietal typicity and the expression of the vintage yields wines that are quite different from previous years.
Of course, this is the joy and excitement of vintage.