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July 15, 2012

*** Vineyard Blog Update ***

The growing season here in southern Arizona is about halfway complete (or so), and we have been working steadily to continue building the vines in our Block 1 vineyard out in Cochise county. The amount of work is simply staggering, and the heat, rain, wind and dust have all made the conditions extreme. Nevertheless, we’ve been making astounding progress at Flying Leap, and I wanted to send you an update to share some details of all that we’ve been up to.


Of all the questions we get asked by people interested in viticulture – and, viticulture in Arizona in particular, the question of irrigation comes up almost universally. In the last blog (June 26) we sent to you, we went into some detail comparing water usage in an Arizona vineyard compared with Arizona’s largest cash crop – cotton. Recall, we did some math to do an apples-to-apples comparison between them, which showed that grapevines consume just a small fraction of the water as cotton, and furthermore it takes nearly 15 times as much water to produce a single dollar of revenue from cotton as with grapes here. So, no matter how you slice it, grapes are ideally suited for our dry, arid climates here, where water is a precious and limited resource.

But the grapevines at Flying Leap still need to be irrigated & nourished, and that requires some clever engineering, which all begins with a carefully designed, drilled and constructed well network. Flying Leap’s well was drilled early in 2011 using a rotary drilling rig operated by a company in Benson, Arizona. It took about a week to drill the well approximately 600 feet deep through multiple layers of sand, gravel and solid basalt rock.

Way down deep, there are water-saturated layers of porous earth, and the wellbore creates (essentially) a free, open cavity where the water can collect. Our driller installed a long, segmented pipe down the hole, which is referred to as the “well casing”. At the very bottom of the long, steel pipe are several slots, which allow water to seep into the cavity. The best way to visualize the composition of the ground down deep is that it is like a sponge full of water. When you drill a cavity in the sponge, the surrounding wet gravels leach water into the hole. All of this water gets filtered through a fine pack of small gravel, which our driller installed from the surface by pouring down the hole so that the gravel settled between the outer surface of the column pipe and the walls of the actual hole we drilled. This thick layer of packed fine gravel serves as a natural water filter, and it’s the primary reason our well’s water is so clean, fresh and sand free.

Once we have a column of water, we then need to pump it out of the ground. To do that, we lower a large, electrical pump down to the bottom of the well casing, and we feed it large power cables all the way down there to operate it.

Our stainless steel submersible well pump was made in Denmark by a company called Grundfos. It generates 25 horsepower, operates on 3-phase electrical power at 480 volts and is capable of lifting 300 gallons of water per minute from our well at 35 psi of system pressure. Farming in our dry, arid climate requires irrigation, and water in Arizona is an extremely valuable and precious resource. Our well is a fundamental component of our farm, and we’ve taken the time to design and build it the right way, so that we can water our vines with clean, filtered water at just the right rate, and yet not burden our aquifer excessively.

Speaking of Water – Arizona’s Annual Monsoon is in Full Swing

The annual monsoon has begun in full force. On Friday, the Kansas Settlement area (Cochise county, Arizona) received a violent summer monsoon, which had peak winds up to 60 knots and dumped 0.60″ of rain in less than 30 minutes and brought some small hail with it, too. We need this water badly, and the moisture was a welcome sight, but the violent winds did do some damage to our Block 2 vines (blew some over – not a big deal, we just tie them back up). Here are some pictures I’ve taken out at the farm, which will show you both the approaching view of a summer monsoon rain, as well as the aftermath…

Vine Pruning, Shaping & Building is Ongoing – Significant Progress

We continue to work tirelessly to prune, shape, sculpt and clean our Block 1 vines. Pruning is an ongoing task in any vineyard, and it goes from May through the end of July. Our Block 1 vines are growing rapidly, especially the Grenache, and we’re moving in sequence, vine by vine to train them up onto our trellis cordon wire. Months ago we swept through the field to establish vertical positions on the vines – we did this by ‘pinning’ the vertical shoots – this firmly holds the vine in the straight-up position, and it also stops the vertical cane from extending further upwards, which directs the plant’s energy into growing itself laterally.

We have found that the key to shaping a grapevine is to get it to grow naturally in the direction you want by carefully stopping growth where you want to change directions. Grapevines have tremendous energy when they grow, and the vigor is simply stunning. In the picture to the right, you can see a Mourvèdre vine from Block 1, pinned securely to its bamboo stake with strong lateral growth extending horizontally down the cordon wire. Of all the vines we planted in Block 1, Mourvèdre is by far the least vigorous. Sangiovese, for example, is a much more vigorous grapevine. In the picture below, you can see a nicely pinned Sangiovese vine, which has well-established lateral growth along its cordon wire, with bountiful leaf and vigor.

Of all the vines we have in Block 1, there is none more fond of growing leaves than Grenache. The vigor of the Grenache vines is absolutely amazing, and we have to thin them back much more than the other vines, and when we do so, we leave behind a mountain of clippings, which are called “bagasse”. Currently, we are focused on pruning and training our many acres of Grenache. Here is a photograph (below), which I took on Saturday (7/14), which shows a great view of several rows of pruned Grenache with several neighboring rows yet to be clipped. This really illustrates the thick canopy this varietal achieves, and underscores the amount of labor involved in taming it.

We’ve clipped away most of the fruit this, saving only a small amount (perhaps a ton across the field), from which we’ll produce a small batch of wine. This is by design, as we’ve focused primarily on building up the health of the Block 1 vineyard, and focusing on root development and achieving a fair degree of winter heartiness. Grenache, in particular is not very cold-hearty, so we’re working to not only clean & clip them, but to get them in a shape & condition that will help them weather the coming winter.

2011 Wines – They’re Coming Soon

Our 2011 wines are very nearly completed their final barrel condition at Callaghan Vineyards in Elgin (www.callaghanvineyards.com). Kent has crafted some incredible reds for us – a Grenache and a Graciano varietal. The barrel samples are delicious – the Graciano has a rich, full flavor of blackberry, current and a spice character that will capture you. The Grenache he made is lighter in both color & flavor, and it will appeal to those seeking a fruitier & softer wine. Tom Kitchens, one of our investor partners from Seattle, Washington is going to come down next month and work with Kent in the winery to bottle the Grenache.

The 2011 wines should be available in limited quantities by online ordering late this year, and we are working to prepare for full-blown retail operations starting next Spring. We will be updating our website significantly in the coming months to incorporate a very robust web capability for wine sales. So, stay tuned for all that.

And, That’s a Rap …

We all hope you’re enjoying following our progress at Flying Leap Vineyards. We enjoy bringing these detailed blog updates to you, and we are excited to share the forthcoming 2011 wines with you. Until then, we all hope you’re enjoying the summer, so cheers to you and yours, wherever you may be.

Mark Beres & Marc Moeller, Co-Founders and All-Around Good Dudes

Tucson, Arizona