Cutter Cascadia began in February of 2017, in what seemed to be a lifetime before that name had been chosen for the label. I had made the commitment to take over the small block of Dolcetto vines in late 2016 from the previous purchaser of the fruit. The vineyard is called von Flowtow and it is on the west side of Hood River off of Country Club Road. Where the Dolcetto grows was once an seventy-five year old pear orchard, and it is still very much orchard land out there as it is a prime deep volcanic loam over basalt perfect for that use. The Dolcetto block sits humbly nestled in womb of cherry and pear and apple trees, and it's not exactly where Dolcetto is used to growing, let alone thriving, but learning to work with the site and coax the most interesting wine out of that soil was and is the goal . . . complaining that you don't have shallow, stressed calcareous marls won't solve a damn thing. You gotta get creative sometimes. I would later find out that they had burned the old pear trees down where the vineyard stands now, and there are still ashes visible through out parts of the vineyard (which has certainly affected the soil chemistry but more on that later).
It was my intention from the beginning to have a “starter” vineyard coming out of my viticulture school studies and to take the training wheels off so to speak. This opportunity had presented itself and I threw myself into it as only I knew how based on my experiences. I felt cautiously confident as I had just spent the prior year and a half reading about and studying vines and everything that goes into that. There was however a sinking feeling when I shook hands with the orchard manager and agreed to take on the project, and I feel that is only natural when taking a huge risk and having all the possibilities of failure flash before your eyes. I would certainly end up homeless and penniless as a result of this project... But in the end I had to get started, and as I only knew how to go about my work in the way that I had learned in school, the first thing that I knew that I needed was a soil sample from the vineyard.
I had zero data about the vineyard from prior years, but certainly I noticed with my eye balls at the end of 2016 that high vigor was an issue in the vineyard as well as a score of weak vines some of which had a lot of red leaves in the canopy. There were also a lot of dead vines as well. It was obvious that something was up, but when the canopy is a bunch of grey twigs there's only so much you can observe. In fact, it was probably a few things . . . and it turned out that yes, it was a lot of things, but we will discuss those things as they come up in other blog entries.
It was important to get a soil sample to see where the nutrition of the soil as well as soil pH stood because it was a starting point for comparison down the line, and only when I conduct another soil sample the same time next year will I start to see if I need to adjust the nutrition in a major way by means of cover crops or soil amendments. What I gleaned from the analysis is that the soil (at that time of year) was pretty nutrient rich but with notable exceptions (on the high end was Phosphorus and Potassium, on the low end Sulfur and Boron). As the season goes on and the vines put stress on the soil that of course changes. It is important to not freak out when you get your soil analysis back and especially in the case of Nitrogen, which moves and shifts quite a bit through the season. Based on the analysis, the soil pH was 6.1, so acidic, but not so acidic like you can see in the Valley, and, as stated above, the soil lands land in the middle of the loam triangle with 42% silt/37% sand/21% clay. Its a finely textured, slightly sandy soil to the touch, which doesn't hold onto water for very long.
Even prior to the soil sample, I knew that vF was a moderately high vigor site yielding big, juicy fruit that was high in pH, with certain parts more so than in others. In years passed having experience with the fruit, it was always more fruit forward and more rounded than other sites I'd seen with the same variety. It was the idea all along to get to know the vineyard this year and to simply observe it through the growing season and keep a notebook of my daily activities out there as well as the phenology cycle and weather. Further more, I wanted to set up areas (test bays) to conduct a season long experiment what took a look at how cluster architecture and yield related to pH, sugars, weights and finally phenolics. In the end I decided on 6 different test bays (I added one later but more on that when the time comes), and these were the treatments:
Bay 1: 1 cluster per shoot & cluster tipped
Bay 2:2 cluster per shoot & cluster tipped
Bay 3: 2 cluster per shoot & no trimming
Bay 4: 1 cluster per shoot & wings clipped
Bay 5: 2 cluster per shoot & wings clipped
Bay 6: 1 cluster per shoot & no trimming
Ultimately, if I am to make the most interesting wine possible from the vineyard, I would need to know what cultural management techniques in tandem with fruit thinning strategy would help me achieve. Cluster tipping is the cultural practice where you go in when the grapes are still green or even in the bloom phase and cut off with your shears the bottom inch or so off the cluster tip. I've read where it can increase phenolics without losing acidity as well as improving cluster architecture. And with large cluster fruit like Dolcetto likes to give, it could be a means of increasing complexity. Clipping wings on the cluster is another technique used in vineyards to increase soluble solids and concentration. Clipping wings is common with varieties that are often high acid grapes, so maybe Dolcetto wouldn't be the best fit for this technique, but I wanted to know what it looked like in numbers. How these two techniques would play out (as compared to no cluster manipulation at all) through this year in this soil with this grape and to tie it altogether with cluster weights, pruning weights and finally a phenolic fingerprint from the lab would prove to be the blueprint for farming the next year.