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
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!