Wine X: Already? Jesus, can we rest?
Wine X: I gotta cut back on those Flaky Creams. I gotta catch my breath.
Stephanie: You want some water?
Wine X: No, got some Tootsie Rolls, thanks. You know, I did a lot of research on Hess before this interview, and I noticed that the vine spacing in your vineyards seems a little tight.
Stephanie: Looked at the pictures in our press kit didn't you?
Wine X: Just answer the question.
Stephanie: We've planted some new vineyards to experiment with vine spacing. The idea's that planting more vines per acre will put more stress on the vines and produce grapes with more intensity. This should result in wine with better color and more flavor. We've planted about 12 acres with this meter-to-meter spacing, which translates to around three feet between each vine and each row. So we have more than 2,000 vines per acre, which is about twice as many as you'd have in a normal vineyard. Also, we train the vines to hang the fruit much closer to the ground, producing wine with more mouth-feel and rounder tannins. Overall, better wine.
Wine X: You happy with the results so far?
Stephanie: Yeah. We're gonna plant another vineyard section like this next year, and probably more over the next several. The only thing's the cost, which is, as you can probably figure out, twice as much per acre.
Wine X: What do you look for in a vineyard? When you're thinking about planting. Soil? Shape of the land? Water?
Stephanie: I like a lotta rock.
Wine X: Seems it'd be a lot harder to work in.
Stephanie: That's exactly why. If the soil's hard to work in, then the vines have to work that much harder to produce fruit. That stress makes for better flavors, especially for cab. Sandy soils let the cabernet vine grow easier, which changes the flavor profiles of the grapes. The more stressed the vines, the better the cab. We also have one of the oldest cabernet vineyards in Napa Valley. It was planted in 1938. That vineyard produces some of our best wines. Not a lot, but very good stuff.
Wine X: If cabernet likes rocky soils, then what does chardonnay like?
Stephanie: A little more moisture in the soil. So for chardonnay I look for soils that have a little sand and clay 'cause these elements help trap moisture. Fog's good, in moderation. Fog helps cool the area and slows down the ripening cycle, which is good for chardonnay. Carneros is great for chardonnay: the soil's great, and the land's full of rolling hills that give the fruit great sun exposure, which produces big fruity flavors, like apple and pear, in our wines. Monterey also has sandy soils and a good climate for chardonnay.
Wine X: In your opinion, what makes a good winemaker great?
Stephanie: Sucking up to the press. Just kidding. A great winemaker can take a mediocre vintage and turn it into a great wine. And what makes a great wine is patience. For example, in '98 we waited until the grapes were just right. Our growers called every day for weeks wanting to pick. They were begging us to pick. But we wanted a long hang time to get the flavors and complexity. Being patient pays off. I think the '98s are some of the best wines we've ever made.
Wine X: Why were your growers so anxious to pick? Want a Tootsie Roll?
Stephanie: How long's it been in your pocket?
Wine X: Couple months.
Wine X: Little.
Stephanie: Sure. Thanks. Anyway. As fruit hangs in the vineyard, it goes from being firm and tight to soft and shriveled. Kinda like this Tootsie Roll. But that's when it starts producing big flavors. Our growers get nervous when this happens for two reasons: rot can set in, which can ruin the grapes; and birds start eating the softer grapes, which, of course, decreases the yield. Basically, growers want to deliver fruit that looks pretty; we want fruit that tastes pretty. Winemaking's as much an art of communication as it is an art of cellar skills.
Wine X: You ever see that episode of the Six Million Dollar Man where Steve Austin gets his arm ripped off by Bigfoot? This looks a lot like Sasquatch country to me. Like some big hairy creature could come outta the woods at any moment, rip your head off and use it for a soccer ball. You know, sometimes I pretend I'm the Six Million Dollar Man.
Stephanie: I bet you do.