Category Archives: Viticulture

Winemaker 2 Winemaker: David Parrish of Parrish Family Vineyards

David Parrish at his winery on the Central Coast of CA.

David Parrish at his winery on the Central Coast of CA.

This month’s Winemaker 2 Winemaker interview focuses on David Parrish of Parrish Family Vineyards on California’s Central Coast.  His story began with vineyard trellis work for icons of the Napa Valley such as Robert Mondavi, Bob Steinhauer and others. Parrish spent decades tending to vines and today holds 24 patents for trellis design. He is recognized as the industry expert in knowing how to work with trellises in order to get the most from the vines, and from them, great fruit. Thirteen years ago, Parrish decided to return to his grandfather’s roots of vineyard production. Parrish planted 40 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on his Creston, California, ranch in 1995 and in 2004 made his first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon. Seven years later he opened a tasting room in downtown Paso Robles and expanded his vineyard holdings into the Templeton and Adelaida Districts.

NC: What originally attracted you to vineyard development and trellis systems?

DP: Viticulture has been in my blood since the time my grandfather started growing grapes in Atascadero, which was before Prohibition and the Great Depression.

I graduated from University of California, Davis in 1974 and started a vineyard trellising company which I’m still involved with today. I currently hold two dozen patents for trellis design and have worked with partners all over the world. I’m also excited to see more and more developments around my shade cloth technology which is allowing further ripeness of the fruit without scaring or burning. I’ve been selling it to other wineries that are also seeing great results.

I worked in Napa for several years, but, my heart always wanted to come home to the Central Coast and grow my own grapes. I decided to take my grandfather’s passion a step further opening my own winery, which is slated to open in early 2018.

NC: You’ve stated that your passion is Cabernet Sauvignon. In your opinion, what are the key vineyard practices which are essential to growing great Cabernet which would be applicable globally?

DP: For us, it always comes back to the way you care for the land. We practice sustainable farming in many ways and have even restored a creek bed on our property to ensure the land continues to improve. One of the things I’m most passionate about is the way we care for the soil. We use seaweed that is infused into the drip irrigation adding natural minerals to our soil.  We also use a mix of worm cast and organic products, known as organic tea, to enhance the microbes. It’s not possible to have healthy vines without healthy land.

NC: There has been a lot of focus on what ripeness is in wine and what constitutes a ripened bunch. How do you personally define ripeness?

DP: We define it as when the “green” or characteristically “unripe” flavors are gone, and are replaced with more fruity flavors like black fruit and berries. We also look at the seeds to make sure that they have no more green color, and are crunchy in texture when bitten, like “Grape Nuts” cereal. The skins should be supple and velvety to the touch, and the pulp should separate readily and easily from the seeds when squeezed. We also monitor the pH and TA to make sure that they are in and optimal range, though flavor is always the deciding factor.

After that, I sit down with the winemaking team and we taste the grape samples together scoring each of the characteristics of ripeness on a scale. It’s then a group vote if we pick or wait.

NC: I’ve often heard that clone selection doesn’t matter as much in Cabernet as it does in Pinot Noir. What are your thoughts and which are some of your favorite clones and why?

DP: I think clones are important when planning and developing a Cabernet vineyard. I spent weeks planning the clones I wanted in our Templeton and Adelaida vineyards. Clones assist in creating a complex wine. For instance, Clone 337 produces dense, complex, and very aromatic wines, so we use that in our Cabernet almost every vintage. There are some years and some clones that can stand alone and for me that is Clone 6. It is my favorite clone as a winemaker because it produces such a beautiful, very dark, rich wine, but as a grower it has lower yields so it’s more of a love hate relationship. It’s worth it in the end, especially since our 2014 was rated a 94 points by Wine Enthusiast and we couldn’t be happier.

NC: In the 1970s, you worked alongside some of the great pioneers of winemaking in the Napa Valley. What was that like? Did you feel that history was being made or was everyone so focused on moving forward that it all just happened around you?

DP: I was fortunate at that time to meet a group of Napa growers who wanted to make Napa a world-class wine growing region and one of my professors, Dr. Kliewer, convinced me to accept their invitation to work with them. I moved to Napa and started working with Robert Mondavi and Bob Steinhauer of Beringer Vineyards. After a few months, I was working with most of the wineries in the Napa area on their trellises.

The experience was so meaningful because it was just a group of people working to make the most out of the land and to work in communion with each other. Today, I see that same spirit in Paso Robles. It reminds me of the early days in Napa when I worked with the family-run vineyards and wineries.  Paso Robles is still that way.  We are a pretty close knit group and a great community.

I think there is something magical that happens when winemakers live on the land they love and are able to truly give it the daily attention and care it demands. It’s uncommon and it’s characteristically Central Coast.

NC: You’ve now started your own family-run winery. How do you balance the business and personal sides to your life working so closely with your wife, daughter, and son in law?

DP: Other than my grandfather’s roots, I wanted to return to the Central Coast because of the people. I spent a lot of time in Napa and know the beautiful fruit that can be developed there but, I wanted to work with family-owned wineries just like the one I wanted to build.

My family and I have  learned a lot facing the wine business together over the last eight years.  I am glad we started in a small tasting room downtown because the learning curve was just right.  We all are involved in the day-to-day operations of the winery; even the dogs have a job. I’m lucky we share the highs and lows together. It takes a lot of work, but the rewards are so great. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

NC: Your vineyard and winery is located on CA’s Central Coast which is renowned for Rhone varieties as well as Burgundy varieties in the south. Which other varieties are you experimenting with beyond Cabernet Sauvignon?

DP: We love the progress of our Sauvignon Blanc, , Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and two Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah blends. We have four vineyards that provide us with a bounty of great fruit that’s easy to work with and delicious to enjoy.

NC: Please describe your winemaking philosophy in Haiku 

DP:

Grow it and guide it

Take care of the land you have

Drink with those you love

NC: What key piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in the wine industry?

DP: I graduated with a biology major, but I’ve found the best way to learn is to simply study, experience as much as you can, and make sure you love it.

NC: Thank you so much David!

 

Blaufrankisch at the start of veraison

2017 Harvest Update: Veraison

Finally, it has dried out.  I can walk in the vineyards and my back yard without worrying about sinking into a puddle.  Since my last update we have still had several more storms however it has not been everyday and we have at last seen a return to sun which gave us a few weeks of normal summer weather.  Despite this, the humidity has stayed very high and has caused growers to continue to be on their game with fungus sprays.  Downy mildew has been widespread this year.  This week brought many storms as a cold front moved through and now our forecast says nights in the 50s with highs in the 70s over the next week or so.  Luckily it is supposed to be relatively dry over the same period.  If this continues it should make up for the crazy rain from earlier in the “summer”.

The reds are just now going through veraison but many of the white hybrids are within a few weeks of harvest.  We are starting our Aurore harvest tomorrow for sparkling and we will continue almost constantly until mid-October.  The vinifera is very exciting this year with the cool nights.  It should be a beautiful year for acid assuming the rest of the fruit is clean.  If we get a moderately warm September with low rainfall and cool nights, this vintage could be spectacular.  It is still too early to tell but the vines are healthy.

Blaufrankisch at the start of veraisonBlaufrankisch at the start of veraison

I’m getting ready to crush Blaufrӓnkisch (Pronounced Blaw-fraan-kish) for the first time for the 240 Days Project.  I’ve never worked with this variety but I’m extremely excited about it for the Finger Lakes.  It is an Austrian variety, mainly grown in the Burgenland with characters similar to Syrah but with a Cabernet-like structure. Most of the local wineries call this variety Lemberger and many cite Blaufrӓnkisch’s challenging pronunciation as the reason to do so.  I have my own thoughts on this since we haven’t found another name for Gewürztraminer (Ge-vurz-tra-meen-er) yet and goodness knows that one is equally challenging.  Blaufrӓnkisch is a deeply colored variety that ripens a week to week and a half ahead of where Cabernet Franc ripens, making it very appropriate for our short growing seasons.  In anticipation of the small but fun project, I’m going to do something else I’ve never done; I’m going to ferment it in barrels.  That has necessitated me purchasing coopering tools, pictured below. These will help me remove the hoops and heads then retighten the hoops in order to be able to stand the barrels on their remaining head and dump in the harvested fruit.

Barrel Wax, Head Tool, Hoop Hammer, and large L shape is a Head Holder.Barrel Wax, Head Tool, Hoop Hammer, and large L shape is a Head Holder.

This is something I had always wanted to do with the To Kalon fruit in Napa but we never got around to trying it before I moved.  I think the roundness of the palate of the Blaufrӓnkisch and the spicy character will pair nicely with the natural structure and complexity of an oak fermentation.  There will be challenges since these will need to be punched down rather than a pump over.  The early cap work I usually do during a red fermentation will be much harder.  I am considering getting a wader and punching down by foot but we’ll see.

Today, I’m off to China for the final trip of the Ningxia Winemaker Challenge. On August 29th we all find out how we did over the past two years.  This has been an incredible experience and one which I will remember forever.  I can’t wait to find out how the wine is received.

En Vogue: Misconceptions About Natural Wines

The subject of natural wines is a very subjective one.  Who defines what “natural” means?  One winemaker’s “natural” wine is another winemaker’s concocted swill all depending on where one stands on the strictness of what the definition of natural is.  While Organic and Biodynamic are easier to define due to their respective certification programs, they are still so misunderstood by the vast majority of consumers that there are completely misinformed beliefs being circulated by the general populace.  I have a passion for Biodynamic wine growing.  It is my dream to one day have my own Biodynamic vineyard because I truly believe there is something special in these types of wine. It is sad that most people don’t understand the differences between conventional, organic, and Biodynamic farming however, I was excited to see, over the holidays, that a mainstream publication, Vogue, decided to tackle this subject (Read the full story here).  I had hoped that the writer would have demonstrated a sound grasp of all three methods and could dispel some of the myths that are out there.  Unfortunately, it was yet again riddled with blatant misunderstandings and errors.   The title alone made me cringe.

No Chemicals: This Is the Most Natural Wine You Can Drink

No Chemicals.  Really?  Can someone please let the common man know that everything.  LITERALLY EVERYTHING is made up of chemicals.  Wine is no exception and is generally made up of the following CHEMICALS.

85% Dihydrogen Monoxide (That is water for the folks who missed the class in High School chemistry on chemical naming)

13% Ethanol (or the alcohol part of the drink)

1% Glycerol ( A sugar alcohol compound that adds viscosity and mouthfeel)

0.4% Organic Acids (Tartaric, Malic, Lactic, Citric, Succinic, etc..)

0.1% Tannins and Phenolic Compounds ( Color, Texture, Mouthfeel)

0.5% Other Chemicals

The great infographic was found at Compound Interest and they dive much further into this topic for red wines if you really want to geek out.  I think their estimation of the average alcohol is probably a little low hence the changes to my list above.

Assuming I give the article the benefit of the doubt about the Chemical issue…

(because after all, those of us who know wine, know this person was referring to the 3 classes of chemicals that fall into Pesticides, Herbicides, and Fungicides), the second sentence made me groan.

“Composting instead of using pesticides?”

These two actions are not interchangeable or on an either/or type of set up.  Composting is the process of turning organic waste and other natural matter into nutrient and beneficial, microbially rich soil amendments.  Using Pesticides is the process of using a chemical to kill a desired pest or range of pest.  You can do both or neither but they are not directly connected.  The author may be referring to the Biodynamic preparations which DO need to be put through the process of composting in various containers (cow’s horns, stag’s bladders, farm animal skulls, etc.) using different herbs or ingredients for at least one season before they can be added to a spray to either be applied to the soil or directly to the vine.  It should be noted that elemental sulpur (a Chemical) is used as a fungicide and is allowed in Organic, Biodynamic, and conventional viticulture.  Hopefully this clears up the misunderstanding of the second sentence of the article.  Reading on…

“Fermenting with native yeasts? Such practices were the domain of eccentrics and hippies.”

AND everyone prior to 1857 when Louis Pasteur discovered that yeast were actually what was fermenting the wine.  Personally, I love a good native ferment, however you have to have extremely clean and healthy fruit to have it go well.  Not everyone is blessed with such great fruit particularly at the value or premium end of the wine market.  Usually the “native” yeasts used today in most wineries are some form of a cultured yeast that was released into the microflora before the winery decided to start doing “native” ferments.  Of course that also doesn’t take into account that a wide number of popular strains of cultured yeasts were just native yeasts that were identified for particularly good characteristics and produced for everyone to purchase.

“The philosophy behind this grassroots winemaking movement is to let Mother Nature do most of the work in the vineyard and to intervene as little as possible in the cellar. In other words: no chemicals on the grapes and as few additives as possible in the bottle.”

Trust me.  Viticulture is working with Mother Nature but she doesn’t do jack when it comes to working in the vineyard beyond blessing a grower with good weather or bad.  Biodynamic and Organic wine growers work HARD.  These growers have to be constantly vigilant looking for problems.  They have to walk they rows everyday to assess vineyard health. The effort it takes to keep up with a lunar calendar, alone, is not for the faint of heart.  If we left it up to Mother Nature, the vines would be climbing trees instead of trellises and the birds would make off with whatever fruit the vines were able to produce.  The very fact that we have decided to train a vine takes it out of the realm of natural and into human intervention.  The sentence in the article sounds great but it does make it sound like these types of wine just make themselves.

Then I got to these two sentences and it made me want to hurl my phone across the room…

“Modern winemaking relies on ingredients like commercial yeasts and enzymes to ferment the wine, as well as additives to deepen its color, enrich its texture, boost its acidity, and sweeten its taste. What’s more, pesticides and herbicides have become commonplace in the vineyard. Many vintners spray their grapes not only to kill pests and disease, but as a routine preventative measure even when nothing at all is wrong with them.”

Chemicals are the second highest cost in vineyard management next to labor.  No one in their right mind, conventional, organic, or biodynamic just sprays the vineyard because nothing is wrong with it.  Generally the spray is because an infection has been spotted or because a crazy storm is coming and you know if you don’t spray you will lose your entire crop to mildew.  Yes, it is preventative in most cases because if you wait until something is wrong, you are too late and the quality of wine will suffer.

The article goes on to quote Catherine Papon-Nouvel of Clos Saint-Julien in Bordeaux, Elisabeth Saladin in the Rhône valley, and Thiébault Huber, in Burgundy who all explain their rationale for their preferred growing methods quite beautifully.  Their passion is clear, as are most growers and winemakers who follow these strict methods of making wine.  It was a moment of great joy for me to read after the initial misconceptions in the article.

Then we delve back into the rest of the article.

“Natural wines can be funky,” says Caleb Ganzer, head sommelier at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, the New York outpost of a Paris bar. As in: earthy, floral, redolent of mushrooms. “They can be briny or tart. Sometimes they’re fizzy. Unfiltered wines can be cloudy. Or they can taste just like conventional wines. You’ve probably had one without knowing it.”

This is my main problem with “natural” wines.  It’s the thought of the end consumers that they have to accept flaws in the wine because they were made naturally.  Well made Natural Wine should taste as good or better than conventionally made wine. Otherwise it is just flawed and it was the winemaker’s choice to let it be flawed.

I appreciate a strong philosophy but when philosophy becomes Dogma and it leads to a drop in quality then what’s the point of your philosophy.

There.  I’ll get off my soapbox now.

If you want to read a great article about Organic and Biodynamic wines please click here for Winerist.com’s comprehensive descriptions.