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!
We here at Ricci Vineyards do not hide that we're animal lovers. We run with a pretty large pack. With that said, two matriarchs of our homestead left us this last year. Josie (the black dog pictured below) was a Border Collie/Chesapeake Bay Retriever mix that loved running through the vineyards more than anything. Chasing rabbits (or birds, or leaves, or random things in the wind) was her favorite pastime.
Lexi (the white pup below) was our other special girl and was raised as a puppy with Josie, as they were just one year apart in age. She was an Australian Cattle Dog that was notorious for always wanting butt-rubs and playing in the water...but never actually going swimming.
As hard as it was to lose these two furry family members, we take solace in the fact that they lived long and happy lives in a vineyard that basically amounted to a dog playground. Although Josie and Lexi can never be replaced, we were longing for another four-legged friend to fill the void.
When we heard that there were two girl pups in a litter of Australian Cattle Dogs available for adoption, we knew that the time was right to replenish the pack. The two new additions, Georgia (puppie and the left) and Gemma (puppie on the right) have a lot to learn, and mighty big paws to fill, but we have a good feeling that they'll soon be chasing rabbits with the fervor that would've made their predecessors proud.
Welcome to Ricci Vineyards, Georgia & Gemma. Rest well, Josie and Lexi; you were the best.