Happy (almost) spring! We sincerely hope you had a calm and refreshing start to the New Year and have been able to welcome 2022 with the same fervor for a new cycle as we are. It’s been hard to stay positive with all of the hardships across the world right now. I hope this little note takes you on a quick hiatus from doom and gloom and maybe even make you smile little.
Photo by Summer Staeb, 2022
It has felt good to flow through January with a little extra time to walk the vineyard rows, hang out with the ducks, and scratch the sheep’s cheeks. The vineyard floor is lush and green now after a really healthy December storm. It’s incredible how much early and consistent rains affect our growing season. These early season rains have allowed the floor of the vineyard to grow a rich green cover crop almost two months earlier than last year. This lets us introduce the rotational sheep grazing sooner so that their droppings are both intensified and wider spread. This year we will be able to graze the entire 10 acre vineyard almost two times before bud break.
When sheep graze, they chomp down only the top of the plant, leaving the entire root system in place. When a plant is chomped, it gives off a hormone response and releases carbon and other root exudates down into the soil. This makes the soil microbiome happy, in addition, it stimulates a rapid re-growth of the plant’s roots as well as the above ground parts. As we increase plant root mass, we also increase the soil microbes’ home (among many other things). These trillions of single celled organisms help to metabolize rock and break it down so that our vines can get nutrition naturally.
So at this point, end of February, the vineyard has been naturally fertilized, mowed (via sheep) once, and the growth is nearly back to the same height as when we first introduced the sheep at the beginning of January. We have completed our first rotation of grazing and have just started re-introduce the sheep to the first block they started in. Double the sheep power in 2022!
Our magic number for sheep grazing is manageable, but it definitely takes some work. We graze about 20-25 sheep per ½ acre per 4ish days. If we had more sheep, we would have to move the sheep more frequently. If we had less sheep, we wouldn’t get the grazing intensity we are after. After three years of grazing sheep at Ibarra-Young, it finally feels like we have our system pretty dialed. And the early rains have certainly helped this year!
We’ll be finishing pruning in the next couple weeks. We have pruned about 7 acres of vines so far, only 3 more to go! My hand is getting sore but we’re in the final stretch and I can almost see the light. Buds will start to push on the vines in the next month and we will enter the 2022 growing season with the hope that this vintage will be another great one.
back to where it all started…
At the end of January, Topher stayed home to watch the animals and manage the flock rotations while I took a quick trip back to the Rhône. France is where I first felt the importance of the connection between a farmer and a winemaker, where I first had the hunch that I needed to be fully connected with the land that my wine grapes grew on, and of course, where I fell in love with wine. It had been a long three years without seeing my French girlfriends, eating fresh baguette for breakfast, or receiving a tasting in French. It was long overdue and an amazing ten day getaway.
I have so many timeless memories from my 2 years living in France. Visiting my favorite places always brings back really happy times. I love exploring new places, but there is something really special about revisiting the same corners where you’ve already been to. Only after many sleeps in one place can you feel the emotion of the region, make friends, have favorite places, and see all the nooks.
My trip started in the Northern Rhone with my best babe, Margaux. We made the tour of all of our favorite places in Lyon, giggled at each other's mistakes speaking in one another's foreign tongues, received some questionable French hospitality, and spent a few days wine tasting. We spent an evening with M. Michel Guignier in Beaujolais where we discussed the complexities of “no-till” viticulture in France, I learned the French phrase “pur-jus**,” and I truly felt the appreciation of the old French Farmer. I don’t think that man ever needs to leave his house, nor do I think he wants to! He grows his own meat, produce, and wines; he makes the wine right under his house, and his vines are right outside his kitchen window. In our discussion of dogmatically sulfur free wines and the complex question of “till” vs. “no-till,” I found it pretty hard to fully express myself in French. It was hard to get everything out that I wanted to, to try to actually have a scientific conversation in a foreign language felt a lot harder than it did in 2017 when I left my home in France. It got me motivated to find a French class and refresh my oral skills. Something to do with all that free time I have… :) ** “pur-jus” translates to “pure juice” meaning a wine is made without sulfur or any other additives. Synonym: 00, zero zero, sans soufre, sulfur free
Tilling became an interesting topic in France across several regions. Most places just aren’t quite on board with the no-till movement, and I suppose I can understand why. Up in Burgundy, Beaujolais, and the Northern Rhône, the vines are planted so close together and so low to the ground that any sort of herb that is growing more than a foot is creating its own microclimate that interferes with the grape clusters! A tall floor in those vineyards will increase humidity in the fruit zone which magnifies the already intense mildew pressure. Furthermore, when the herbs grow about 8-12 inches, they are already growing over the fruit zone and begin to interfere with the efficacy of any sprays. I’m a bit fascinated with this idea of no-till viticulture in France. I think with a few adaptations it could be incredibly beneficial to the longevity of the vineyards and farming in general. I look forward to talking to more producers and exploring this more in the future!
That leads me to our magnificent day with Tomoko and Guillaume at Chanterêves. Wow! What a lovely couple. Incredibly memorable wines paired with the best hospitality. Tomoko and Guillaume have inspired me to make wines with even less sulfur than I already do. Their wines are so pure, precise, refined, and lively all while staying mostly sulfur free. This is hard to do well, and they are certainly my recent benchmark for achieving clean and striking wines across the board. I was only able to bring one bottle home from them and I will be saving it for a special occasion!
We had a few other lovely stops too, but I will fast forward to taking the train down to the Southern Rhône with 2 full cases of wine, a suitcase, and a backpack. Yep, I was that girl. Worth it because I made it down to Sarrians and was welcomed by the best hug ever from my dear friend Marie-Paule!
My trip slowed down a bit in the South. The days felt longer, there was time to walk the vineyard rows, cook the slow way, and sit down for every meal. It felt like how I remembered France. We enjoyed fresh jam in the dead of winter that Marie-Paule preserved at the end of summer. We planted replacement trees in the orchard for us to enjoy the fruits one day. We braved the mistral through vineyard visits and playing with the kids. I even got a chance to take their mountain bike all around the back roads of Vaqueras, Gigondas, and the surrounding hills. It was absolutely bliss to hang my laundry in the provincial sunshine again and cook all day without anything to do or anywhere to be. I will never take these trips to France for granted. Always learning, always evolving, always putting little pieces of knowledge into my wallet of tricks.
Ten days felt like just enough time to see my bests, feel the energy of France again, and make it back home with some saucisson from the best butcher in Beaume-de-Venise and 15 bottles of wine. I made it back just in time for Topher’s birthday and we headed up to ride bikes in Big Sur. It was a dreamy January! On the first day of February, I knew vacation was over when the raccoon broke into our cooler and ate the rest of the smuggled saucisson and Toph’s birthday cake. Funny times!
Anyways, enough about our slow season! Things are definitely ramping up and I’m feeling busy in the best way. Spring wines are pretty tasty and they’re coming soon!!
Benôit Reynaud and I pruning at des Tours 2022
a little timeline of things to come:
2022 Spring Release PRESALE - Wednesday March 2nd, 8am PST live through March 27th. 2022 Spring wine club is charged - March 27th - March 29th (wine club, you will get an email the week before with the option to add additional wines to your order with your wine club discount) Spring Wine Club ships - April 4th-April 5th (weather pending) Presale wines ship - April 11th-12th (weather pending) Official launch of âmevive spring wines - Monday April 11th! All other wine orders start to ship the week of April 18th
Thank you for reading along. Thank you for your interest in our journey and our holistic approach to viticulture. We wish you an easy rest of your weekend. With gratitude, Alice and Topher