Ranging in size from one to three acres each, our blocks are organized according to their geographic locations within the vineyard. They are split into two groups: east and west of the main ranch road; and ascend numerically to the north from the ranch’s southerly border and entrance along Highway 246. Planting began in 2006 and has proceeded steadily at an average rate of six acres per year. At present, there are seventeen different blocks with more to come. Of the seventeen, nine are Pinot Noir, four are Chardonnay, one is Gamay and three are Syrah.
1 E – Our newest planting on the steep slopes directly above the original ranch homestead, Block 1E is an extremely high density two acre block (5,800 vines/acre) highlighting a very special planting of own-rooted Estrella selection Syrah using cuttings from our friends at Stolpman in Ballard Canyon. Creating this micro block of 2.5 foot by 3 foot vine spacing required the terracing and planting to be done entirely by hand at a slope of 45 degrees. Because of its unique trellising, severe slope and river rock soil, we are very excited about the prospects of this block.
2E – Planted with the Heritage Mt. Eden selection grafted to 420A rootstock, Block 2E is our smallest block, with a thin layer of rich, loam soils over the rock base that is clearly evident in the terraces below. This selection of Pinot Noir was originally brought to California in the 1890’s by Paul Masson from Louis Latour’s famous Corton Grand Cru vineyard in Burgundy. The only block with a northwest sun aspect, it sits upon its own isolated hilltop with views in all directions. Its similar northwest row orientation is unique within the vineyard.
3E – A bit more wind protected than most of the vineyard, this Pinot Noir block highlights extremely devigorated Riperia Glorie rootstock field grafted to the rare Dijon Clone 459, said to be from the famed Romanee St. Vivant vineyard of Romanee-Conti. The clay soils are extremely dense, with unusual water holding capacity. Row direction is classically north/south, in harmony with the moderate southerly slope.
4EP – Block 4EP is planted to the Dijon clone 115 in a predominantly clay soil, permeated with limestone and shale. Selection 115 is considered to be the most “complete” of all Dijon clones, and is thus the workhorse for many modern vineyards. The southern sun aspect and north/south row direction ensure consistent, well ripened fruit, kept in check by the devigorated 1616C rootstock.
4EG – This block defines a section of the original Block 4E that we recently field grafted to Gamay, the famous grape of Southern Burgundy that produces Beaujolais. Seizing upon the opportunity to obtain cuttings from Seven Springs Vineyard, the first planting of this varietal in the New World, we could not resist adding a small amount of Gamay into our Estate plantings.
5E – This is a small block planted to the Mt. Eden clone, but in a completely different terroir with a more traditional north/south row orientation and southern sun aspect. Locally, Mt. Eden was first planted in the famous Sanford and Benedict Vineyard in the early 1970’s, with subsequent cuttings used at Lafond in the 1980’s and Melville in the 1990’s. Sourced locally from another winery, our vines have a history of producing some of the most interesting pinot in the Santa Barbara County. Originally part of Block 7E (and thus planted with the same 420A rootstock), it was separated to provide more clonal diversity within the vineyard.
6E – Planted to the classic Pommard heritage clone grafted to 101-14 rootstock, this block is in a steeper clay area that is also one of the coldest parts of the vineyard. With its great depth and structure, Pommard consistently shows the ability to stand on its own, but can also blend beautifully with its Dijon counterparts.
7E – Block 7E is planted to four different Chardonnay selections, interplanted in the classic French masale selection and is a combination of Wente, 548, 4 and 96. It occupies the crown of the vineyard, which is well drained in all directions. The soils in this block are characterized by large quantities of limestone, calcareous rock and diatomaceous held together in a medium loam, a perfect match for the 420A rootstock.
8E – This bowl-shaped block highlights a mix of slopes and sun aspects, making it a challenge to farm. It is also a masale selection of Chardonnay selections. With a north/south row orientation, this is one of our coldest blocks, contributing additional structure to the fruit. The calcareous rock consistent with Block 7E but the lighter soils in this section are better suited for the SO4 rootstock.
9E – The most northerly of our eastern blocks, 9E was the first to be planted to Chardonnay in 2009. The field grafted cuttings were obtained directly from the famous Mt. Eden Vineyard, representing a field blend of vines that have mutated over the past 50 years rather than a specific clone. Mt. Eden Vineyard consistently receives the highest ratings of any chardonnay produced in California. This extremely cold block forms the southern edge of the valley separating the vineyard from the horse corrals and cattle working facilities to the north. The only block with a true northern sun aspect, it is planted with a north/south row orientation. The soils are similar to those in Block 8E and thus were planted with SO4 rootstock as well.
1W – Our very first block was planted in 2006 to the robust and well-structured Dijon clone 667. Another one of the newer Dijon clones, 667’s tannin and flavor profiles are perfectly matched to the deep clay soils, with vigor kept in check by the restrained Riperia Glorie rootstock. The prevailing westerly wind is so strong here that the north/south oriented steel vineyard posts continuously break from the stress. One of our favorite Pinot Noir blocks, 1W produces very elegant and high-quality fruit delivering our most serious wines thus far. We are now recognizing this special section with a Penny Label designation called the UNUM Pinot Noir.
2W – Also planted in 2006, Block 2W consists of the famous Swan heritage clone, planted in the Russian River Valley by Joseph Swan many years ago. Its delicate, small clusters produce notoriously meager yields, but add a unique flavor to our wines. The first of a series of latitudinally oriented blocks all planted with 101-14 rootstock, its elevation drops dramatically towards the west, yielding a well-drained, western sun aspect. Fortunately, this slope and aspect correspond to the prevailing westerly wind, allowing the air to move through the rows and strengthen the vines.
3W – Block 3W is planted to the “faux” clone 828, a suitcase clone allegedly brought from the famed La Tache vineyard to America by Gary Andrus in the lining of his raincoat. Our own grafts originated from the famed Merry Edwards vineyards and reflect the unusually upright growth of this much debated clone. It produces an unusually erect shoot and long clusters of beautiful fruit. Though grafted to the same 101-14 rootstock and planted in very similar terroir, it produces fruit in marked contrast to the Swan block next door.
4W – Our second Pommard block, 4W, is planted in a completely different soil from its little brother, 6E, with a 90 degree twist in row direction and sun aspect to match the other western blocks. This site is even colder and windier than its southerly brethren. The comparison between the two Pommard blocks will be is a case study in the effect of terroir on the vines and their fruit. It is planted to the same 101-14 rootstock as the other west facing blocks. Block 4W quickly established itself as another favorite Pinot source, resulting in another Penny Label designation as the FUGIO Pinot Noir. The FUGIO coin was designed by Ben Franklin and was the first American penny.
5W – Heading north, Block 5W is planted to the Chardonnay clone 76, known for its balance and aroma. It is the last east/west row oriented block and shares the same 101-14 rootstock. Climatically and in terms of elevation, it is similar to 9E, our other Chardonnay block. With its northwest slope and sun aspect, it also bears the full force of the prevailing winds making it perhaps the coldest block in the vineyard. These challenging conditions for Chardonnay are intended to render a structured, angular wine.
THE TERRACES: In addition to the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay program described above, there are two terraced blocks that were painstakingly created from the slopes surrounding our pond and the small canyon it partially fills. Inspired by the geological similarity to the rocky ledges found in the Rhône Valley of France, we sculpted these terraces in the manner established for producing the great wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We were fortunate to acquire some very special cuttings from a famous vineyard and custom grafted it to 1103 rootstock.
Within the 200-acre working ranch is the Pence Vineyard. Seen from above, the vineyard itself appears as an island within a larger land mass that has been slowly eroded over time on all sides.
The most complex wines are created from vines grown on slopes and challenged by their environments. Though more expensive to plant and difficult to farm than lowland fruit, the qualitative difference is palpable.
We would like to think that our vineyard blocks were developed in a manner akin to the various tiny appellations within Burgundy, which were painstakingly identified by Cistercian monks over two millennia of trial and error.