"Formula farming" does not happen here. At 22 acres, the vineyard is small enough to micro-manage and that is what we do. Attention to detail is the key to producing outstanding pinot noir— it is a notoriously unforgiving varietal— and to coaxing cool-climate syrah to ripen before fall rains set in. In our world, obsessive compulsive behavior is considered a good thing!
At Griffin's Lair we are committed to farming "sustainably".The objective is to keep the land vital, and the vines healthy, to ensure that the vineyard we've so carefully established will flourish for many decades to come. We avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in favor of an organic approach. The key ingredient is compost, broadcast in the fall. The aim is to improve, rather than deplete, our soils.
Another important point: we see this vineyard as truly a team effort. We have sought out winemakers who feel their job starts in the vineyard and we encourage them to contribute input at each phase of the growing season. Each winemaker has designated rows in the vineyard, and our management techniques vary according to their personal philosophies. We feel the "shadows" of the grower AND the winemaker in the vineyard are the most important viticultural practice.
Viticulture Geeks Read On
Basic Viticulture: Both pinot and syrah vines are on a VSP (vertical shoot positioning) trellis system, with cane pruning. Numerous passes are made through the vineyard to manage the canopy and adjust the crop for perfect fruit exposure and even ripening. Atlas Vineyard Management trains and provides our crew, who are with us from pruning through harvest.
Fertilizing is accomplished with applications of compost; with fertigations that include liquid fish, humic acid, yucca, and molasses; and with foliar applications of organic micronutrients. The goal is to improve soil structure and encourage microbe activity so the vines can access nutrients without chemical fertilizers. We are guided in this by consultant Bob Shaffer of SoilCulture, who tests the soil, walks the vineyard, and makes recommendations.
Cover Crop and Weed Control: The vineyard is basically non-till with a permanent cover crop. To combat soil compaction we occasionally rip or disk alternate rows and seed a soil-building cover crop. Weed control is accomplished with a single application of Round-up in the vine row; the syrah block, however, is done completely by hand (with weed whackers and shovels), and with the help of winter grazing by a flock of sheep. Since weed control is the only process that keeps us from organic status, we are continually experimenting with different methods.
The Irrigation System is another example of micromanagement. To control or to encourage vigor, and to accommodate soil changes within blocks and variations in drainage patterns on hillsides, we have installed a system of cut-off valves, double lines, and varying numbers of emitters per vine, so water can be put only where it's needed. We follow a program of "early deficit" irrigation, to encourage small clusters and berries. (These small berries create the intense flavors that characterize both our pinot and syrah.) We don't believe in "stressing" vines, but if they are healthy and happy, we don't mind irritating them a bit. After veraison, we are generous with water, to aid ripening and build the strength of the vines.
Pests and Diseases: During the growing season the vineyard is monitored by Laura Breyer of Integrated Pest Management Systems, who watches for nasty bugs and critters. Fungicides (sulfur, stylet oil, and biofungicides—all organic) are used from bud break until veraison to prevent mildew. Our location next to the Bay is in a major flyway, so birds are a BIG problem. The entire vineyard is netted when the first purple berry appears to protect the grapes against bird damage. In 2017 we are trying a new system--lasers that scan the rows, frightening away birds. Not all birds are bad, however. Nest boxes in the vineyard have brought in a resident population of barn owls who do a wonderful job controlling the gopher population (and they aren't on the payroll!)