At Long Meadow Ranch, we embrace history and quality over what’s trendy. However, it is imperative we are an economically viable company, otherwise we won’t remain a company for very long, right? After 25 years or so, a vineyard gets to the end of its usable life. Most growers remove these vineyards and replant new vines.
In an effort to preserve the aging historic vines in our Bear Canyon cabernet sauvignon vineyard and maintain profitability, we decided to modernize the trellising and pruning method.
In 1991, when we were considering budwood for the Bear Canyon Vineyard, we were looking for examples of cabernet sauvignon vineyards that produced wines that were elegant, balanced and genuinely a complement to food. We have been guided by these wine profile goals since our inception.
We were attracted to the wines produced by Heitz from the Bella Oaks Vineyard owned by Barney and Belle Rhodes. Up to that time, very few wines in the industry were vineyard-designated (the first was Martha's Vineyard also produced by Heitz), so finding expressions of wine characteristics from a single vineyard was very difficult. We chose to take budwood from Bella Oaks because of the distinctive, balanced style reflected in the vineyard-designated wines made by Heitz. We were also influenced by the dedication to fine food and balanced wines by Barney and Belle.
Similarly, we were very attracted to the wines from Jordan. The 1984 vintage was especially a favorite of Ted’s, because of its elegance and expression of Bordeaux-like character (moderate alcohol, good acid--not flabby, balanced--both oak and grape, tannins, etc.). Andre Tchelistcheff had consulted with Jordan and their style objective was to become the "Margaux of California." Andre clearly had influenced their vineyard selections. So, when we had a chance to select budwood from their top vineyard, we jumped on the opportunity. Moreover, Margaux was a favorite of Ted’s among the great wines from Bordeaux.
We have two blocks (J for Jordan and R for Rhodes) in Bear Canyon with unique field selected budwood that have been used to make our wines for decades. As you can imagine, these blocks are very important to Long Meadow Ranch.
In 2013, we started a discussion about grape quality between cane and spur pruned vines and decided to converted 4 rows of Block J to cane pruning as a long term trial to evaluate the success of this kind of change. As with just about anything, we have learned many things about farming grapes over the last 20+ years and determined that our trellising system also needed to change in order to promote even light and proper canopy management. Harvest 2014 was the first year we had fruit from the modernized pruning method and trellising.
To test the effects of these changes, we made wine from the 4 cane pruned rows and wine from the neighboring 4 rows of spur pruned vines. They were farmed exactly the same way and experienced the same conditions in the vineyard. The winemaking was also done exactly the same - barrels, cooperage, yeast, aging, etc. - so the only difference was the vine the fruit came from. Barrel tastings were done regularly to check progress and, in 2016, we did a blind tasting with our winemaking and winegrowing teams to understand the difference between the 2 wines. The result? The cane pruned vineyard wines were more delicate and fruity with true varietal and vintage characteristics, as well as lower alcohol, all resulting in a better style fit for our wines.
With these results in mind, in February 2017, we converted all of the dormant vines in Block J to cane pruning and changed the trellises in all the rows. This is a lot of work (it took our entire vineyard crew 2 months to complete the change).
First, we pre-pruned all of the vines to just the 4 best canes closest to the trunk.
After we removed all of the canes, except the ones that will be used as next year’s fruiting wood, we had to pull all of the trellis catch wires and the old cross arms (we recycled them, of course).
Then, we carefully removed the cordons as close to the last remaining spur with our canes as possible.
After the cordons are removed, we immediately painted the cuts with a fungicide. Approximately 24 to 48 hours after the cuts are made, the vines secrete a sticky sap-like goo as a natural defense against pests and disease. This goo makes a scab over the cut and pushes out anything that’s unhealthy for the vine.
Next, we laid down the new canes on the fruiting wire. We always want these canes to be around the thickness of a #2 pencil with 10 buds on each. This will also increase our fruit production, because now we have 40 shoots per vine.
We changed the trellising, so that we can better manage the canopy. When the vineyard was originally planted, it only had short trellis stakes, a system also known as California Sprawl where the shoots just fell over the trellis. When the vineyard was updated in 2006, we added the taller stakes to help the higher shoots stay upright. However, this configuration did not provide consistent light conditions - sometimes too much sun and sometimes too much shade. These trellises also only had one wire that couldn’t really hold the canopy properly, so the shoots could fall to the left and right. We couldn’t achieve optimum balance with this system.
Our new trellis system is now modernized with the tools available to us today. We reused the tall stakes and added new cross arms at different heights (12”, 16”, 20” and 24”).
We added more wires, so now there are 2 for each height and side of the vine to keep the shoots from shifting. This also allowed us to open up the center for better canopy management.
The new end posts were installed with with a really neat tractor attachment. You know how we feel about big tractors!
The final step in this process is to lower the head height of the vines. Some are taller than the fruiting wire, so they have to bend in a wonky way to reach the fruiting wire.
We want all of the fruit to be in a 12” window, so that it is consistent with uniform coverage, brix, pH, etc. This consistency results in even ripeness and delicious wine. Moving the head height is a 3 to 4 year process that we are trying to jumpstart naturally by encouraging a new cane to grow further down the trunk. We do this by scraping off some bark to allow light into the trunk to stimulate growth.
Once the new cane is established, we can remove the old trunk and voila!
We completed converting the 3 acre J Block this year and we will do the same work in the R Block when the vines are dormant. This year, we also converted Blocks 7 and 8 (6.5 acres) in Anderson Valley to new trellising. The vines were already cane pruned, however, the canes were stacked vertically (one on top of the other) instead horizontally (side by side). This configuration made for a big clump of leaves and fruit that were susceptible to mildew. In 2015, we converted 20 acres of sauvignon blanc. So, as you can see, our long term redevelopment plan is in full swing!
ARTISAN OF THE MONTH
Name: Jeff Russell
What is your role at Long Meadow Ranch (LMR)?
Culinary Farm Manager
How long have you been working with LMR?
What has been your favorite project at LMR?
Designing the culinary gardens at Farmstead
What do you wish other people knew about LMR?
We are working towards a diversified closed loop farming/ranching model that is directly represented by our farm to table restaurant. Closed loop farming is a diversified farming system that doesn't rely on any outside inputs. Using rotational grazing and cover cropping, we can fertilize the crops without importing any outside forms of fertilizer. This is not easy, but we have all the components to build a closed loop system at LMR.
Tell us how you got into farming. Was it a natural fit from the start or did you take various avenues before landing in the field?
I was born to farm! I went on a field trip when I was in kindergarten to Luther Burbank’s house in Santa Rosa. I specifically remember going into his greenhouse. I remember knowing then that I wanted to be a farmer. It’s almost as if I didn't have a choice, farming found me. I'm one of the lucky few who get to do what they love for a job.
What kind of trends are you seeing in the farming industry?
What inspires you?
Saving the environment for my wife and kids!
Best vacation you have ever taken?
My 2014 farming sabbatical. After years of not going on vacations (especially summer vacations), my family and I took a whole year to road trip, camp, and explore California plus have an amazing adventure on the Big Island of Hawaii. My favorite spot we landed was D.L. Bliss State Park at Lake Tahoe in August. We were camping at a secluded lake at high elevation in the Sierras and my wife got altitude sickness, so we fled to Tahoe and landed a magical and rare camping spot. We camped, hiked, and swam in the lake and my eyes were opened to the beauty of Tahoe. Now we try to go back at least a couple of times a year.
Red or white wine?
Ice cold Dr. Pepper in a can.
Bike or motorcycle?
Sushi or pizza?
iPhone or Android?
Mountains or ocean?
Santa Cruz, the perfect combination of both!
AT THE TABLE
This summer soup is perfect with a chilled glass of LMR Rosé of Pinot Noir.
Heirloom Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho
Recipe Courtesy: Stephen Barber
2 lbs ripe red or mixed heirloom tomatoes, cored and roughly cut into chunks
1 red bell pepper
1 fresno chili
1 cucumber, about 8 inches long, peeled and roughly cut into chunks
1 small mild onion red, peeled and roughly cut into chunks
1 clove garlic
2 tsp Napa Valley Select Cabernet Sauvignon Vinegar, more to taste
½ C Napa Valley Select Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, more to taste, plus more for drizzling
Combine tomatoes, bell pepper, fresno chili, cucumber, onion and garlic in a blender or, if using an immersion blender, in a deep bowl. If necessary, work in batches. Blend at high speed until very smooth, at least 2 minutes, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
With the motor running, add the vinegar and 2 teaspoons salt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil.Strain the mixture through a strainer or a food mill, pushing all the liquid through with a spatula or the back of a ladle. Discard the solids. Transfer to a large pitcher and chill until very cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.Before serving, adjust the seasonings with salt and vinegar. If soup is very thick, stir in a few tablespoons ice water. Serve in chilled bowl and garnish with small dice of cucumber, tomato and a drizzle of Napa Valley Select Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil.