September 20, 2008

Sunday at Armstrong Vineyard

Friends Doug and Michele Ackerman planted the new Armstrong Vineyard last fall on Ribbon Ridge just off Lewis Rogers Lane. Last Sunday they hosted a barbeque that gave me a chance to check out the new planting up close.

The vineyard was planted last fall in two main blocks, the south block oriented north/south and the north block oriented east/west because of a strong slope in the northwest corner of the property. North/south rows in that area would be too precarious for the tractor.

The vines are a mix of Dijon clones, with a new area to be filled in this fall with Wadenswil, a spicy scented clone from Switzerland. The soils here are typical sediments of Ribbon Ridge, old ocean floor pushed up by tectonic movement that gives a well draining, silty medium for grapevines.

So far the vineyard seems to be the talk of Ribbon Ridge. The vines are extremely healthy, with very few of the plants having problems in this first year. I’ve heard grumblings from another grower who wonders how so few new plants have failed.

The issue with new vineyards is largely about grafting pinot noir clones onto rootstock. Bad grafts mean dying plants. The few that the Armstrong vineyard has are typical, evident by red vine leaves. But other vineyards often have lots more failed grafts, so Armstrong seems quite healthy by comparison.

The vineyard manager was at the barbeque and showed a few of us what a bad graft looks like. Young vines produce sugar through their leaves that goes down to the roots to promote strong root growth. A bad graft a few inches above the soil line prevents the sugars from getting to the roots. What you see is a bulge above the graft point, where the sugars build up when there is no where else to go, leaving the very bottom of the vine trunk thin like a toothpick. The few problem vines will be replanted this fall when the Wadensvil plants are put in the ground.

Looking ahead, the new vines will be “two-budded” this coming winter, meaning they will be pruned nearly to the ground, leaving only two buds to grow next year. Those two buds will grow into two canes next summer, neither of which will produce fruit. The goal is to pick the stronger of the two canes to become the trunk for the vines going forward. The weaker cane will be removed, the stronger bent over and tied down to a trellis wire. The following year (two years from now), buds on upper half of that that cane will provide the first crop of fruit.

At least, that’s how I understand things. Now that I think of it, Doug mentioned that they will do a “double Guyot” meaning there will be canes going in both directions from the trunk. But I’m not sure how you get one trunk and two canes from two budding. Wouldn’t you have two trunks? I’ll have to study that one. Nevertheless, the vineyard’s two years away from producing fruit, but I look at the healthy vines and imagine that many growers would push the vines to fruit next year. The Ackerman’s are playing it smart by allowing for another year to promote strong roots and uniformity in the plants.

The barbeque of course was a nice chance to catch up with lots of old friends of acquaintances. There was lots of nice wine, of course. I sampled a few things, including two things I brought. One was the 2004 Drouhin Chassagne Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche, from the 1er cru Morgeots. This was more oaky than I remember but otherwise pure and delicious. I also brought the 2000 Siduri Pinot Noir Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard from the Sonoma Coast. Nothing like California pinot noir at an Oregon vineyard. This wine was not small scaled, but it’s always more subtle compared to most other California pinot. Mature, rounded and lush, this was drinking nicely if not showing great complexity.

All in all, it was a great afternoon. The future is promising at the Armstrong vineyard. Keep an eye on this site.

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