Paul Sloan of Small Vines Viticulture is responsible for the initial vineyard installation as well as on-going vineyard management. We were introduced to Paul through a neighbor who grows Pinot and Chardonnay grapes. He told us that Paul was very knowledgeable about our area, its terroir and climate, and specialized in high density farming, which is a practiced European method. His philosophy is that high-density plantings focus the energy of the vine into smaller, more intensely flavorful clusters, producing better quality wine. Paul specializes in smaller vineyards where more individual care can be given to the vines producing a truly handcrafted wine. Even then, he was hesitant at first to embark on a vineyard as small as ours, only one acre available for planting. Only after we explained that our goal was to produce the best possible Pinot Noir in the Burgundian style without cutting corners or manipulation, was he won over. We shared the same philosophy and goals. Our journey had begun.
As our relationship over the years has grown, we have worked together to optimize the vineyard and quality of the fruit. Initially, a lengthy discussion on the types and proportions of clones ensued. We settled on Calera, 115, Swan, 777, and 667. The vine spacing of 4’ by 3’ was decided based on the terroir, topography and climate. The soil was extensively tested and a land preparation program designed. Vertical trellis and irrigation systems were installed.
Early on, we also learned that farming is a tough business, where nature seems at times to conspire against you. Too much rain or not enough; too hot or too cold; gophers, moles, and deer; raccoons, birds, and even yellow jackets and wasps. Our initial battle was with gophers. Even though we started our gopher management program before the first vine was in the ground, we lost about 100 plants to them in the first couple of years. We have become more aggressive in our monitoring and trapping, and will always need to remain vigilant. Now we know where they penetrate the vineyard and address those specific areas regularly.
Then there are the raccoons. We have always tented the vineyard when veraison occurs to keep the birds out. The raccoons are agile and smart, so they can lift up the net and scamper into the vineyard. They just love ripe grapes! We optioned to install portable electric fencing around the perimeter in addition to the netting for the last few weeks prior to harvest when the sugar starts to rise and the animals have the most interest. Welcome to fortress Zurinaga!
Now we have the invaders mostly under control and the plants have matured enough that, with the exception of young replacement vines, the vineyard is dry farmed, without using pesticides or chemicals.
Paul continues with the meticulous farming, with attention to detail for each individual plant. We even considered giving each one a name.