Connecting on the Curve Balls
Working with Mother Nature
Remember Steve Martin as the television weatherman in L.A. Story who reached a breaking point because of the numbing sameness of his weather reports? He tossed magnetic pictures of the sun onto his weather map while saying, “It will be sunny today, sunny tomorrow, sunny the next day....” The scene was hilarious, and we laughed not only at his humor but also at the thought that the weather in California is the same, day in and day out.
The weather in California, and more specifically in Napa Valley, though generally quite pleasant, is decidedly not predictable, consistent, or dependable. Each year is wholly distinct—each has its own personality, shaped by a unique set of circumstances—and we are reminded every year that Mother Nature is definitely in charge (at least in the vineyard).
We carefully, thoughtfully farm our vineyard knowing that Mother Nature will invariably throw us at least a few curve balls—this is agriculture, after all! These come at us in many forms: spring frost just at bud break; a heat spike or unusually windy conditions at flowering; rain at just the wrong time; a summer that is too hot; or perhaps a summer that is just too cool. The possibilities are literally endless, making grape growing an interesting challenge and ultimately giving each vintage its unique personality.
Over the years we've learned to be prepared for myriad seasonal events in the vineyard. We balance the canopy to the crop size, we drip irrigate to help our vines throughout the growing season, we unfurl shade cloth for the sun, we employ wind fans to help protect against frost, we cultivate beneficial plantings to attract "good" insects, we adjust our crop load time and time again—our work in the vineyard during the growing season truly never stops!
When it’s finally time for the grapes to come in we are prepared in the winery, as well. After harvesting only the best clusters in the vineyard, our “sorting table” team at the winery looks again at each cluster and then selects only the highest quality, whole berries for fermentation. When the time comes to make the transition from fermenting juice to baby wine, our basket press gives our winemaker exacting control for the gentlest pressings.
Through all this we must be prepared to make continual sacrifices in our quest for the highest quality. Just as in our selection of only the most desirable grape clusters, during the blending process only the best lots of wine in barrel will make it into the final blend. Along each step of the way, many decisions are made to ensure exceptional quality. Aspirations for the highest expression of our Cabernet Sauvignon and endeavors in qualitative decision-making are inseparably linked.
Through the process from bud break to fermentation, no matter what Mother Nature throws our way, one thing remains the same—we are determined to make a wine of unsurpassed distinction, which reflects balance, grace, and integrity. We keep our sights resolutely fixed on creating a wine that truly and consistently expresses the winegrowing heritage that is the heart and soul of the Spottswoode Estate Vineyard, thus honoring our amazing vineyard property year after year.
—Beth Novak Milliken, Excerpt from the Spottswoode 2011 Newsletter