Our 2012 season is ripping right along, and we wanted to send out a blog posting to update you on some of the things we’ve been doing out at the vineyard in Cochise county. I try to structure these blog postings so that they’re interesting, informative and persuasive. So much of what we write in our blog is based on the many questions we receive from all of you, so by all means keep the questions coming. Our ultimate goal is to bring the wine consumer an incredibly good product and a personal connection to it. That’s why we enjoy detailing how we go about building a vineyard – we want to bring you together with the wine, to develop that personal connection to it.
Lately, we’ve been discussing water issues, because that’s the most common question we get. Despite the fact that a water-craving plant like cotton thrives here in the desert (to the tune of 320,000 acres), many believe that a miserly plant like a vitas vinifera grapevine, which consumes a mere fraction of the water as cotton must have trouble doing likewise! Not so – grapevines love Arizona.
So, we wanted to shift gears and talk about the grapevines themselves. We get a lot of questions about the actual varietals we grow at Flying Leap, and we wanted to give you some insight into what we grow here and why. First and foremost, we have very carefully selected the vines we have planted, and an exhaustive amount of research went into them. Our goal was to choose those varietals that were best suited for our climate, soil and winemaking style. The Arizona terroir is very similar to the dry, arid soils of the Rhone valley in southern France, so the “Rhones” do particularly well here. You’ll find almost all Arizona vineyards contain some acreage, if not all of it planted out in these types of grapes, so let’s talk about one of the five varietals in each blog. Our first vine is Grenache Noir, and our vines come from a variety of sources, but primarily the clones at Flying Leap are purchased under license from the famous Tablas Creek Vineyard in California.
Block 1 – Grenache
Flying Leap’s Block 1 field contains just over 10 1/2 acres of five red grape varietals: Grenache, Petit Verdot, Mourvedre, Sangiovese and Graciano. For some nostalgia, here is a link to our original handwritten notes we took as we were sitting in our travel trailer one night, scribbling down as best we could the vine layout that ended up going into the ground. Literally – this is a photocopy of a dirty, wrinkled creased notes page that Marc kept crunched up in his pocket for days: 20110427_Block 1 Planting Layout. If you look carefully at this sketch, you’ll see that we have 24 rows of Grenache (our rows are 1/4-mile long, so that’s 6 miles of Grenache vines in Block 1). We source Grenache in two varietals – “VCR 03” and “TCVS”. Let’s talk about the first.
Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo (“VCR”)
Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo (VCR), based in Italy, just north of Venice is the world’s largest and most respected grapevine nursery. There are a total of 35 “VCR” super-premium series of French and Italian grapevine clones and selections licensed for sale in the United States, and Flying Leap Vineyards purchased VCR clones of both Grenache and Sangiovese in 2010. The remainder of of our Grenache is purchased under license from the renowned Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles, California. We have two “TC” clones – both the A and B. Each has their unique characteristics.
Of all the vines we have at Flying Leap, Grenache is by far the most vigorous. It grows, and it grows and it grows. Controlling Grenache vigor is one of our most challenging summer tasks.
Grenache – History
(from Tablas Creek’s website)
Grenache appears to have originated in Spain, most likely in the northern province of Aragon, and ampelographers believe that Grenache was the foundation of Aragon’s excellent vin rouge du pays. From Aragon, it spread throughout the vineyards of Spain and the Mediterranean in conjunction with the reach of the kingdom of Aragon, which at times included Roussillon and Sardinia. By the early 18th century, the varietal had expanded into Languedoc and Provence.
The phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century indirectly increased European plantings of Grenache. In Rioja, for example, vineyards were replanted not with the native varietals, but with the hardy, easy to graft Grenache. A similar trend occurred in southern France, as the percentage of Grenache plantings after the phylloxera infestation increased significantly, replacing the previously abundant Mourvèdre.
Grenache was brought to California in the 1860s, where its erect carriage, vigor and resistance to drought made it a popular planting choice. It came to occupy second place in vineyard planting after Carignan and was an element in wine producers’ branded field blends. Unfortunately, this usage encouraged growers to select cuttings from the most productive vines, increasing grape production but reducing the overall quality of the vines. In recent years, Grenache plantings in California have declined, as the varietal is replaced by the more popular Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; currently there are 9,600 acres planted in California.
However, while overall Grenache acreage has declined (largely low quality plantings in the Central Valley), the varietal has at the same time undergone something of a resurgence in popularity. Newly available high-quality clones, including those from Tablas Creek, have encouraged hundreds of new plantings in California, with the greatest number concentrated in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
“Grenache produces wines with high concentrations of fruit, tannin, and acids. Its flavors are most typically currant, cherry, and raisin, and its aromas are of black pepper, menthol, and licorice. Although many California Grenache clones produce simple, fruity wines which tend to be pale in color, [TCVS Grenache clones] produce brilliant ruby red wines which are heady in alcohol (usually 15% or higher), and intensely fruity and fat.” Id. Given Arizona’s long growing season and intense sunshine, Flying Leap is looking to carve out a niche varietal using Grenache here in the southwest, where our weather gives us intense sugar, flavors and unique character.
News at the Vineyard
Our pruning is still underway, as it has been for months. We are sweeping through the field again, working to establish the cordons. To do this, we thin the vast network of vine foliage down to a manageable bulk, then secure the strongest horizontal vine branch to the cordon wire itself using flexible tie tape. We clip the vine at its end, so that the lateral arm’s growth stops at about 4-feet in length. Here is a pruner at work, thinning the foliage down and preparing to tie the cordons to the wire.
With many months now behind us in the 2012 growing season, the vines are beginning to thicken up their canes and develop the typical mature form of an adult vine. Careful pruning this year has given our vines not only a truly beautiful shape and form, but also a secure, strong frame that we can build upon in subsequent growing seasons.
Flying Leap’s 2011 Vintage – Bottling Begins this Week
Kent is going to bottle the 2011 Grenache this week. It’s reached it’s barrel-aging perfection, and it’s time to transfer the wine to the bottle for a final rest and bottle-condition before we release it for sale this Fall. Look for Flying Leap’s 2011 Grenache and Graciano in limited, select distribution later in the year, as well as limited availability at southwestern wine festivals beginning in November. We will also offer our 2011 wines in December via online sales, so stay tuned for that.
And, that’s a rap. It’s late, and I’m tired. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” And, as your day begins tomorrow, know that our crews will be in position at 5:00A tomorrow, working patiently with great care to continue transforming Flying Leap Vineyards into something very unique & special in the desert southwest. We thank you for your continued interest in Flying Leap, and we hope you’re enjoying staying in the loop via our blog posts.
Mark Beres & Marc Moeller
co-founders, hard-working Arizona farmers and all-around good dudes
Flying Leap Vineyards, Inc.