Thank you for all the feedback on the first iteration of our new winemaker journal. My hope for this series is to provide our supporters an insider’s view of all the behind the scenes at Calluna while also sharing other commentary on the broader industry. I’ll continue to focus on topical issues for Calluna, but would love to address any questions or big topics any reader might have in future journals so I encourage you to reach out. Lastly, if you have anyone who you think might enjoy reading along, we always encourage forwarding the email to them or encouraging them to sign up for our mailing list here.
On to the update..
Last of the Replanting After the 2019 Kincade Fire
In late October 2019, the Kincade Fire came through Calluna and destroyed about 3 acres or 15%+ of our vineyards. The replanting has been a long haul, but is going well.
A couple vineyard blocks needed to be pulled up completely. Then there were a few blocks where we just pulled hundreds of dead vines and replanted without disturbing the other vines or removing the trellis system.
When we plant individual vines within the existing vineyard, it is much less expensive, but it is more difficult to manage because the new vines have different water, nutrient and pruning needs, and it is frankly difficult to keep track of where all the new vines are when the vineyard block is fully leafed out.
When we pull out an entire block and start over, it is much more expensive – upwards of $50K per acre. One of the primary drivers of this is the cost to rip out the existing trellis and irrigation systems, which we must do before we can prepare the ground properly for replanting.
Last fall, right after harvest, we tore out our Block 5 which is 1.5 acres, half planted to Malbec and half to Petit Verdot. You can see these piles in the picture below. And you can see that we re-worked the ground, planted a cover crop, and installed the initial part of the trellis system.
One particular aspect of this process which I really dislike is the disposing of these piles. Because the woody vines are all tangled with the wires and metal of the trellis system, the industry standard way of handling this is to burn the pile. This gets rid of the wood, allowing the metal to be properly recycled – and you actually get paid a little for the scrap. While the last thing I want to do at Calluna is start a fire, we waited for a break in the rainy season when everything is green to start the fire and begin the recycling process. As you can see in the photo below, Jose, the foreman of our vineyard management team, is using a backhoe to feed the main fire during the course of the burn throughout the day. I then had to camp out with the fire until about 7 pm when the wood was burned, but required to be hosed out.
The vineyard will take a long time to get back in production – in the third year, one can get a relatively small amount of quality fruit as long as we keep the yields very low. The young vine can ripen fruit well, but not too much.
Most of you know that our blends include Malbec and Petit Verdot. And many of you have probably tasted the small quantity of Malbec which we bottle on its own when we have more than we need for the blends. So you may be wondering: is Calluna going to go 3 years without Malbec and Petit Verdot? Fortunately, no! Three years ago, we pulled out our old Block 12 Merlot (also damaged by the same fire) and in anticipation for our 2023 harvest, I replanted this old Block 12 to Malbec and PV. So, if the stars align, we will have at least some Malbec and PV for this year and not have an interruption for these varietals. And the Block 5 you see in the picture above will be replanted to Merlot!
Olive Oil at Calluna
If you asked me what I know about making Olive Oil, I would be honest and tell you, nearly nothing! That was especially true when I decided to plant 150 olive trees on the property as I was planting the vineyard starting back in 2005. The trees look nice, are happy in our warm, dry climate, and don’t need too much attention (as long as you’re willing to tolerate minor problems in nature). We have made olive oil a few times over the years, and for whatever reasons, it is extraordinarily good. I have avoided harvesting most years because it is such a lot of work and very expensive per bottle of oil. But for the 2022 growing season, we have gotten to the point of having what might be deemed, with great imagination, a commercial size crop. We just bottled it today, as I write, and we have about 400 bottles (500 ml). And here are some of them shown below with our new Calluna Olive Oil label:
Literally, we did. After many years, Marla and I went back to Bordeaux in late November. There is a giant trade show, Vinitech, which takes place every other year (except in pandemics) and we often go to that as we can see a lot of acquaintances and all the latest equipment. Then we try to add some trips on to that throughout the region. We had a fantastic tasting of barrel samples from the 2022 vintage with Gerard Fenouillet at Chateau Ferriere – a beautiful Margaux property which is owned by our Calluna neighbors, Claire and Gonzague Lurton–they own the Trinite property just to the east of us.
By great coincidence, at their Bordeaux seashore home, the Lurtons are also next door neighbors of Alain and Francoise Raynaud, the family I worked for in St. Emilion in 2003. We were fortunate enough to have a wonderful dinner in downtown Bordeaux with the Raynauds, and catching up with them in person was great.
To cap this off, my son Peter and I were fortunate to go to the trade tasting held by the Union des Grands Crus in January in San Francisco. Many of the very best chateaux are pouring wines there and represented by the owners/family/cellar masters themselves. It is an extraordinary tasting (and one must be very careful to spit as there are nearly 100 wines, all of which must be tried).
They were presenting the 2020 vintage which most feel is a very good one and the last of the strong trilogy of 2018-2020 (ie, 2017 and 2021 are less good).
I feel Bordeaux gets a bad rap as being stuffy and over-priced, with the boring traditional varietals of Cabernet and Merlot. The wine world has become very divided. On the one hand, many consumers may love drinking natural wine from an unknown grape that dazzles with the flavors of unknown microbial activity. On the other hand, many gravitate toward the large scale, super ripe wines which critics have elevated in the last decades. But Bordeaux still stands as the largest, most consistent producer of fine wine in the world.
And there are many great wines which are reasonably priced. If you want to know more, drop me a note, but I highlight one here. This is Matthieu Bordes who runs Chateau Lagrange in St. Julien. I met him through my friend who was the assistant winemaker at Chateau Quinault. At this same tasting 4 years prior, Matthieu gave me a bottle of the 2016 Chateau Lagrange which I then opened with one of my tasting groups. It was so good I promptly bought more at about $50 per bottle. At this tasting, I returned the favor by giving Matthieu a bottle of our 2015 Calluna Estate – I am hoping he will write me back with his thoughts.
Chateau Lagrange is a true classic of Bordeaux. The 2020 we tasted here is an excellent wine and I see it retails for about $54. That is a deal for a wine which will outlive most of us. Heck, the 2016 Lagrange can still be bought at $65.
That’s all for now.
Thanks for reading,