Well, it certainly has been awhile since we have last contributed to this blog section of the website. It would be easy to say that most of that has to do with the conscious decision to avoid the computer and devote the bulk of our time to friends and family over the holidays, the honest admission is that a bit of laziness played a factor as well.
In any case, hopefully this post will get everyone up to speed. For starters, the 2018 harvest was a huge success in terms of production, as yields were reported to be 20 to 30% above what is considered average. The only downside to such a haul is the potential glut put on the market; meaning there might be some issue on whether winemakers are going to demand as much supply for 2019 ... but we suppose that bridge will be crossed when we get to it.
As far as the current state of things in the vineyard, everything is meandering along as it should at this time of the year. The biggest and most laborious project is the pruning of the vines while they are dormant (and before bud break occurs in a few short months). Pruning may seem straightforward, it demands a fine attention to detail and many years of experience to develop a proper and consistent technique. Aside from just pruning back old wood to promote new growth, each one of our vines is also treated with a special pruning sealant to protect the vine from contracting any fungal diseases. When a cane or cordon is cut on a vine, we want to close the wound to prevent any infections from occurring. So, if you ever walk through a vineyard during winter and notice that the fresh cuts on a vine look like they have been painted, in reality it is essentially a band-aid to ensure the vine remains healthy and infection-free.
Above: Scenes from the vineyard on an mid-Winter afternoon.
Magic happens every year in the vineyard: the bleak, doldrums of Winter and frost-filled mornings are whisked away with the emergence of Spring and the blossoming of new growth on the vines. Known collectively as "Bud Break" in vineyard-speak, this is the time of the year where the previously groggy, dormant vines are slowly awakened from their winter hibernation to begin another growing season. While this phenomenon is not uncommon in a lot of perennial plants, the occasion is usually a cause of excitement in the wine industry because it means another harvest is only a few short months away.
During the midst of winter, if you look at a bare vine you will notice little notches that run along the length of each existing shoot, or branch, that almost look like knuckles. These "knuckles" are the buds of the vine that will eventually spring to life once the threat of frost has passed and warm weather starts to take hold. In Carneros, bud break usually occurs in mid-to late March, but it can happen as early as February during mild winters and as late as April when the weather is slow to cooperate. Once bud break does happen, you will notice that a previously barren vineyard landscape will suddenly transform into a vibrant scene full of bright green, baby grape leaves. Sometimes it feels like this process happens overnight, but in truth, that is not the case...
Above: New growth starts to emerge as the vines come out of dormancy.
For most people that consume wine, there is relatively common ground in terms of the varietals we've been accustomed to drinking. Chardonnay comes to the top of the list, as does Cabernet Sauvignon ... but the truth of the matter is that there are literally thousands of different grape varietals used in commercial wine making throughout the world. What you find in the aisle of your local wine shop or supermarket only scratches the surface of what is actually out there.
In the Carneros region of California, the area is dominated by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as that is what tends to grow best. However, that is by no means all that is produced in this particular area. You'll find that vineyards all throughout Carneros will experiment with different varietals to see what works, what doesn't, or perhaps just want to offer a alternate perspective on what is commonly found in other climates. After all, a Merlot grown in Carneros is going to turn out a lot different than a Merlot from Howell Mountain.
Above: Close-up view of a St. Laurent grape cluster.
At Ricci Vineyards, we are no exception to this. Through the years we have grown a number of grapes from off the beaten path, all with varying degrees of success. One of the most recent varietals we've introduced in our vineyard has been St. Laurent; which prior to our planting, was a varietal not grown within the continental United States. St. Laurent has established itself as the "go-to" grape for red wine produced in the Czech Republic, but beyond that, it is not commonly found anywhere else except for in Austria and other small plantings in Europe.
In addition, the grape itself is somewhat of a mystery in terms of origin. Definitely possessing characteristics of Pinot Noir, the remaining portion of its ancestry is unknown. What IS known about the grape is that it was named after a day of the year, St. Lawerence Day, which recognizes the hailed Lawrence of Rome. The only notable relation to wine and Lawerence of Rome, that we could find anyway, is that the celebration for St. Lawrence Day occurs on August 10th, coincidentally the same time that the St. Laurent fruit changes color on the vine and really begins to ripen.
With all of that said, as far as the fruit itself, it does resemble a Pinot Noir ... but maybe more so a Pinot Noir from the wrong side of the tracks that brandishes a switchblade. There is no denying that the wine that comes from these grapes has an unrefined edge and it is unapologetic about it, which is also why we love it.
If you are ever interested in foregoing the ordinary and trying something unusually awesome, we highly encourage you to give this varietal a whirl when you come across it. To find producers using our St. Laurent fruit, you are welcome to do so here. Take care and happy drinking!