Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sulphur also activates or primes the defence system in grape berries

ABC Rural
Scientists discover sulphur can be good for grapes

By Richard Hudson

West Australian scientists are excited about results from their latest ground breaking research on the effect sulphur has on table grapes.

For hundreds of years sulphur has been used as a preservative to control pathogens such as fungi and bacteria.
But the latest research shows sulphur also activates or primes the defence system in grape berries.
Some people suffer allergic reactions to sulphur; that's one of the reasons why the World Health Organisation banned its use of sulphur on most fresh foods.
But the table grape industry is still allowed to use sulphur because it has struggled to find a suitable cost effective alternative.
Dr Michael Considine, a scientist at the University of Western Australia's plant biology department, says their research provides new hope of finding alternatives to sulphur preservatives.
"The magnitude of the changes that sulphur dioxide brought about in the (grape) berry was really astounding; we had no expectation that so much change was going to take place and that we might be able to find a safer alternative."
This world first research could change the way table grapes, wine and dried fruits are preserved.
Dr Considine says they are looking at UV-B and ozone fumigation as possible replacement treatments that could be available in 5-10 years.
"It may be that the ultimate outcome is that we encourage industries to find more clever way to get the residue levels down so that there aren't the potential problems for consumers, but I'm confident that there are alternatives out there."
This research could have ramifications for foods with sulphur preservatives ( E 220 to E 229 ) - products like dried fruits, jams and wines tend to use them.
The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, WA's Department of Agriculture and Food and also the APC Table Grape Committee were also involved in the research.

Why only vineyard workers?

Wine Notes: Health care comes to vineyard workers through Salud mobile clinics

Published: Tuesday, August 30, 2011, 8:00 AM
One of Salud's mobile wellness clinic at Knudsen VineyardsView full sizeAt one of Salud's mobile wellness clinic at Knudsen Vineyards, workers learn stretching techniques to help prevent injury.
On a sunny Wednesday morning in August at Knudsen Vineyard, Allen Holstein climbs up the steps of a white bus and offers his arm. The bus is parked on a patch of grass dotted with wildflowers in front of a stand of Douglas fir; behind it are neat rows of grapevines, each supporting a few tight bunches of tiny and still-green grapes. 

Holstein is the vineyard manager for Argyle Winery, and he's leading by example, showing his team of workers that it's OK to get on this bus and have his blood pressure checked. Not that he had much trouble convincing them to come here. "My guys are happy to come in, particularly if it's on paid time," he says with a chuckle. 

The bus, from Adventist Health, is actually a mobile clinic, set up to efficiently provide annual checkups to many patients in a short window of time. It's here and at other sites throughout the Willamette Valley all summer long, thanks to Salud, a local winery-powered nonprofit that has been providing health care to migrant workers for the past two decades. 

Outside on the grass, nurses measure the height, weight and body mass index of each laborer. Once on the bus, the patients receive blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol screenings as well as tetanus shots -- essential for workers who often are exposed to rusty wires. 

Jose Sanchéz, tall and affable, steps up to be measured and weighed. Originally from Jalisco, Mexico, Sanchéz now lives in McMinnville; he has been a vineyard worker for Argyle Winery for four years. He drives a tractor and sprays pesticides; today, he's been tilling the earth between the rows of newly planted vines, turning over the soil to keep it soft. 

Sanchéz has been attending these mobile health clinics three times annually since he started with Argyle: once for a health exam and twice for dental checkups. The great thing about Salud, he says in Spanish, is that, "Anyone can go -- they don't ask to see your papers. They just want to be sure that you are healthy." 

There's an irony about a fine, expensive bottle of wine: In the United States, the fruit that made it was almost certainly nurtured and harvested by migrant laborers, many of them undocumented. These workers often sleep in tents, and their occupation can be backbreaking: Hours spent bent over, pruning or weeding, in the hot sun or pouring rain; carrying heavy buckets of grapes up and down steep hillsides at harvest time. 

That said, the Oregon vineyard worker's lot is better than that of laborers in many comparable industries. 

For example, food writer Barry Estabrook's new book, "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit," exposes the shocking underbelly of the positively medieval Florida tomato industry: babies born deformed and workers sickened by chemical exposure, beatings and mistreatment, filthy living conditions, even modern-day slavery. 

By comparison, the Willamette Valley wine industry is much more humane, and, through Salud, offers the only health care program of its kind in the U.S. In no other farming industry in this country, according to Salud organizers, do workers receive regular and comprehensive on-site, free medical assistance, no questions asked. 

Of course, not every medical problem can be easily resolved. One 53-year-old laborer, short but solid, in jeans and a white shirt, his skin dark from the sun, sits on a portable treatment table that's set up on the grass as Melanie Sharp, a student in the physical therapy department at Pacific University, shows him some leg exercises. The laborer prefers not to share his name; Sharp later tells me that he fractured his knee eight years ago and never received medical attention for it. All this time, he has been performing demanding field work despite the painful injury. 

"He's been in the program a long time," remarks Myriam Vazquez, a health educator with Tuality and Salud. "He always says, 'I'm fine.' We have to tell him to go and get treatment." 

Barriers to care 

As with so many agricultural industries, the Oregon wine-grape community can't provide health care to its laborers through normal channels because so many of the workers are seasonal; it's not clear how many are here legally and thus eligible for traditional health care coverage; and very few of them speak English. 

And so, two decades ago, a group of winery owners and doctors got together to come up with a plan to provide health care to vineyard workers. Their program came together in 1991 when 18 Oregon wineries joined forces to plan an auction modeled on the Hospices de Beaune, the annual barrel sale in Burgundy that's said to be the oldest charity auction in the world. 

The event kicks off every November on a Friday afternoon at Domaine Drouhin Oregon, where wineries offer barrel samples of their newest vintage of pinot noir, and participants bid on cases of special Salud cuvées. The next evening, a dinner and gala at Portland's Governor Hotel includes silent and live auctions for lots such as library wines and wine-travel experiences. 

Because so many of the health services offered by Salud are donated, every dollar raised represents more than three dollars in health care services provided to vineyard workers, according to Leda Garside, Salud clinical services manager at the Tuality Healthcare Foundation, which partners with Adventist to provide the medical services. 

The benefit auctions have raised an average of close to $700,000 annually for the past four years. In addition, the International Pinot Noir Celebration, the Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association, Willamette Valley Wineries, McMenamins and individual wineries such as Winderlea and Raptor Ridge all run programs that benefit Salud. 

Still, all this fundraising isn't enough to cover every vineyard worker in the state. The mobile clinic visits approximately 50 sites each summer season; at present, it only serves 40 percent of the vineyard workers in the Willamette Valley. But those who are able to use the services benefit hugely. 

"Hypertension and diabetes are very common in the Latino community," Garside says. "People come to the U.S. and start making changes in their diet and lifestyles. We want to catch these issues early. We encourage them to keep walking, moving and continue eating those traditional foods, like beans and rice, fresh salsas, fresh fruits and vegetables -- all the things that they had in their home country. And to substitute oil for lard." 

The goal is to get the workers eating healthfully, so as to avoid related health problems, such as diabetes or kidney failure, in the future. 

In addition, Salud provides education and information for workers to take home to their families, connecting workers' wives with obstetric and gynecological services and their children with pediatric care. At today's clinic, participants are taught how to examine a breast for lumps and receive handouts on how to prevent their children from being exposed to pesticides. 

When program participants are hospitalized, says Garside, "We help them through the entire process." For less serious medical issues, Salud connects patients with community health centers, such as the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in McMinnville, for continuing care and low-cost prescription medications. "You have to close the circle," Garside explains. "You can't just say, 'Here are your test results, have a great day.'" 

As the morning session draws to a close, 11 vine tenders in dirty boots and baseball caps gather in folding chairs to go over the results of their examinations. They listen attentively as health educators present quick, lively lessons in fluent Spanish on topics such as dental health, STD awareness and cancer detection. A special segment this year focuses on alcohol, tobacco and energy drinks. Yes, energy drinks: In a line of work where dehydration and heat stroke are real threats, an energy drink full of sugar and caffeine can wreak havoc on the body. 

"It's a pretty comprehensive program," vineyard manager Allen Holstein reflects. "It started out as just tetanus vaccines, and now they're doing vision testing and dental care. I call it the 'Compassion Department.' " 

Follow Oregon's wine scene with Katherine Cole on Twitter at and on YouTube at
E-mail her at

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

substantial errors 'are not made unconsciously'.

MailOnline - news, sport, celebrity, science and health stories

Feel like you've had one glass too many? Why vintners are understating alcoholic content on wine bottle labels

  • Study finds 57 per cent of wines were stronger than declared
Last updated at 7:43 AM on 7th July 2011

Those who find they are a little wobbly on their feet after a glass or two of wine may have a legitimate excuse.
Research has revealed that most labels understate the true level of alcohol in the bottle.
Producers around the world have increased the alcohol content over the last 20 years because of demand for stronger, fruity tastes.

However, on top of that, many are also systematically underplaying the true amount of alcohol in their wine, believing it will sell better to the health-conscious.
A study of 129,000 bottles found the average alcohol content was 13.6 per cent, compared with an average figure on the label of 13.1 per cent.
Of the wines tested, 57 per cent were found to have a higher level than claimed, according to a research paper published by the American Association of Wine Economists.
Concerns about super-strength wines come at a time when pubs, bars and restaurants increasingly insist on using large glasses.
Many routinely offer a 250ml glass, which equates to one third of a normal bottle.
Claims and reality
The pattern has been blamed for an increase in drunkenness among young women and associated rowdy behaviour, hospital admissions and ill-health.
Don Shenker, of Alcohol Concern, said: 'It is simply irresponsible for wine producers to understate the strength of wines. 
'It's high time we had independent and mandatory scrutiny of alcohol labelling, with possibly sanctions in place for non-compliance.'

'There is a perception among new world wine producers in particular that we in the old world don’t want high alcohol wines for health reasons.'

The American study found producers in Chile, Argentina and the U.S. were the worst offenders for  understating alcohol content. 
However, all wine-making countries, including France, Italy and Spain, were found to include more alcohol than claimed.
The researchers said it was likely that the substantial errors 'are not made unconsciously'.
Wine expert Charles Metcalfe said: 'There is a perception among new world wine producers in particular that we in the old world don’t want high alcohol wines for health reasons.
'Consequently, there will be something of a marketing element in a decision by a company to use a label that downplays the alcohol content.
'However some wines, such as grenache, are at their very best when they have a higher alcohol content, around 14 per cent plus.
'If people are genuinely worried about alcohol content I would be much happier if they have a small glass, rather than a large glass.'

'You should see what he's like when he's had TWO sips'

Recent figures indicate that every fifth death in Russia is alcohol-related


Wine will curb alcoholism, says Russian president

  • Tuesday 30 August 2011 
Russians should drink more wine to fight widespread alcohol abuse, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said.
‘Winemaking is one of the sectors that should be developed and contribute to the eradication of alcoholism,’ he said at a meeting with the governor of Russia’s southern Krasnodar Territory - a region with a burgeoning local wine industry.

‘Countries where this sector is strong have no problems with alcohol abuse: problems with alcohol abuse stem from ‘other drinks,’ Medvedev said.
Dmitri Kovalev of Moscow wine merchant Simple Wines told Decanter.comthat ‘Government action against alcoholism has not differentiated among alcoholic beverages’ so he hoped a recent ban in Moscow prohibiting sales of vodka after 10pm would ‘be for the good’.
But he pointed out the legal difficulties in obtaining wine import licences have contributed to less wine on shelves, adding that wines from Georgia – once, along with Moldovan wines, the most-consumed in Russia – remained banned.
Furthermore import duties bring the cost of any imported wine to at least RUB200 (€5), a price that is too high for many Russians, he said.
‘Vodka is still available for only RUB100, to say nothing about fake alcohol, so I don’t know how our government is going to promote wines with such tax policy.’
The Russian Health Ministry estimates per capita consumption of pure alcohol at 15 litres per person.
Recent figures indicate that every fifth death in Russia is alcohol-related: official statistics show that each year alcohol abuse kills 500,000 Russians.

best way to run a successful wine business

Top 5 Success Factors and Challenges in Operating a Winery - Wine Business News

August 29, 2011
Top 5 Success Factors and Challenges in Operating a Winery
by Dr. Liz Thach, MW and Dr. Janeen Olsen

Given the drastic fluctuations in the economy over the past few years, coupled with strange weather patterns resulting in large and small wine grape harvests, it is difficult to understand the best way to run a successful wine business. However, there have been some positive examples of wineries that have done a good job of weathering the various storms that have beset our industry.
Now a new study, conducted by the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University, illustrates what the top five success factors are and also identifies key challenges. The research, which was conducted during the Spring of 2011, included responses from 149 wine businesses, of which 90% were in California. In terms of size, 59% produced under 10,000 cases, 22% ranged from 11 to 100,000 cases, and 19% were over 100,000 cases.
Top 5 Factors for Winery Success
Participants were give a list of 24 factors that are important in operating a winery and asked to rank them on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not important and 5 being critical. The results, illustrated in Table 1, show that understanding how to sell wine directly to consumers has now risen to the top spot – especially for small wineries. While this was important in the past, it has become increasingly more so with continued distributor consolidation and an extremely competitive marketplace.

The second most important factor is development of a strong business strategy. This has always been important, but is particularly so during tough economic times. Development of strategy includes continual assessment of both external and internal environments in order to respond proactively, rather than get caught in a reactive response to market changes. Third place is development of a strong wine brand, which is quite challenging in such a saturated market place, however, this, can be achieved with a clear understanding of how brands are built and sustained. Managing winemaking costs ranked above viticulture costs (#7), most likely because these types of costs are often higher, however this can change with fluctuations in grape supply. Finally understanding and keeping up with changes in compliance and regulatory issues has always been an important success factor in the wine industry.
Top 5 Challenges in the Wine Industry Today
The survey also asked wine business leaders to write down the two or three most pressing challenges they see in the wine industry today. A totally of 397 responses were collected. These were analyzed using a qualitative coding process and grouped into 23 categories which were ranked by frequency. The top 5 categories are illustrated in Figure 1 and show that concern for increased competition is the most challenging issue. Most respondents mentioned competition from imports as well as the growth of third-party labels.

The second most cited challenge was regulatory and compliance issues. “Way, way, way too many government regulations & taxes!” wrote one respondent. Managing all of the marketing and sales issues in operating a wine business was ranked as the third largest challenge. “Finding creative ways to sell within distribution channels, retail outlets…and direct to consumer” was an example of comments in this category. Controlling high costs to achieve decent profitability margins was mentioned frequently. As one winery leader stated “controlling costs while improving quality,” is very challenging. The fifth major challenge was understanding wine consumers and keeping pace with all of the changes in wine fads. “Adapting to the new trends in wine consumption,” was a common sentiment in this category.
Next Steps – Setting a Wine Business Research Agenda
The information from this survey will be used to help prioritize wine business research studies at SSU. As the only university in the US offering both a Bachelors and an MBA in Wine Business, Sonoma State University and its wine business professors want to make sure they respond to the needs of the wine industry which they serve.
About the Authors: Dr. Liz Thach, MW ( is the Korbel Professor of Wine Business and Management and Dr. Janeen Olsen ( is Professor of Wine Marketing They both work full-time at Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute in California.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Enology International
By Jordan Ross
The assumption that vineyard yield and wine quality are inversely related is deeply ingrained. No one would argue that yield and quality are related but the experiences of top producers in Bordeaux, Burgundy and California show how complex the subject is and how misleading generalizations are, such as lower yields, old vines and non-irrigated vineyards produce better wine. In fact, during the last decade, the highest quality wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy have come from the highest yielding vintages and the worst wines have come from the lowest yielding vintages. The famous California Cabernet Sauvignon that won the 1976 blind tasting in Paris was produced from the vineyard’s first crop. As vines weaken from old age, yields drop but the quality is not necessarily better. And irrigation (rain in Bordeaux and Burgundy), by reducing vine stress, is indispensable to what are acknowledged to be some of the world’s great wines. 

These misunderstandings have taken hold because talk about low yields sells wine. From Dominique Lafon’s (Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Meursault) point of view, responsibility lies in part with growers in Burgundy who feed wine writers misleading information in order to sell their wine. He adds that wine writers are also to blame for perpetuating these notions, “Growers like to talk to journalists about low yields and journalists like to hear things like this. The wine writers all know how to taste wine, but when they get into technique, they don’t know enough about it. To look at the vineyard, your eyes have to be trained, but who among the journalists know about vineyards and viticulture? Some producers here are talking low yields but with so many dead vines in their vineyards that it’s nonsense, it means nothing.” Jean-Michel Cazes, owner of Chateau Lynch Bages concurs, “It makes me crazy when I see people just looking at one figure - the number of hectoliters/hectare - without looking into the plantation density and the condition of the vineyard.” 

By examining the factors affecting yield and quality: growing region, vineyard site, vine density, clone, grape variety, pruning and crop thinning and the complexity of the relationships between all of these factors, this article will demystify some of the long-held assumptions and show why generalizations about yield and quality can be misleading.

Pruning (# shoots/vine) 

Pruning establishes the number of buds retained per vine. Buds produce shoots on which the clusters are born, so the greater the number of buds per vine, the greater the potential yield. (The actual yield will depend on flowering, berry set, crop thinning and other techniques discussed later). Since shoots produce leaves, pruning determines the vine’s leaf area and therefore the vine’s ability to produce sugar - the building block for aroma, tannin and color compounds essential to wine quality. Proper pruning will create a balance between the vine’s leaf area and the number of clusters. If leaf area and crop level are not balanced, the vine is either undercropped or overcropped. If pruning is not severe enough, too many buds are retained and with a vigorous variety such as Sauvignon blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon planted on a deep, fertile soil, the vine is overcropped which stresses the vine causing weak growth and incomplete ripening. If pruning is too severe, let’s say in an effort to reduce yield, the result is equally detrimental to quality, contrary to popular belief. Because the reduced number of clusters concentrates the vine’s energy into fewer shoots. This overly vegetative condition creates a dense canopy, closing it off to both light and air circulation causing shading and poor ripening. Improper pruning decisions not only affect the quality of the current season’s crop, but affect the quality of next year’s harvest by affecting “bud fruitfulness.”

Bud Fruitfulness (# clusters/vine)

The buds that are retained at pruning in January will produce shoots. These shoots will produce more or less clusters depending on the amount of direct sunlight and heat the buds received during the previous spring. During that time, the microscopic grape clusters - flower clusters at this point - are being formed in the minute, developing bud. High temperatures and abundant direct sunlight - normal conditions in California - favor clusters and higher yields. Lower temperatures and cloud cover - more common to Bordeaux and Burgundy - diminish fruitfulness and yields.

Andy Bledsoe from the Robert Mondavi Winery recalls the influence these factors had on the ’95, ‘96 & ‘97 vintages: “The Spring of 1995 was horrendously cool and cloudy. Vines throughout California did not get enough light and temperature to encourage the vines to develop clusters the following year. Fruitfulness was very poor and therefore the cluster count was very low the following year (1996). Wine writers mistakenly attributed the low yield in 1996 to poor set. It did rain in some areas during bloom which caused a poor set in those areas.” Bledsoe continues, “by contrast, the spring of 1996 was excellent - a lot of sun and warm temperatures. We guessed that the fruitfulness would be very good in 1997, and we were right. We are seeing it right now - the cluster count is very good.”

Mondavi’s vertical trellis system and management practices such as leaf pulling and shoot positioning, promote fruitfulness by maximizing sunlight exposure onto the buds. The same results are achieved by more elaborate trellises on high vigor sites which open up the canopy by dividing it in two, maximizing light penetration. Factors such as excessive pruning, irrigation, fertilization or choosing the wrong combination of rootstock/variety/clone will also result in an overly vegetative vine and diminish bud fruitfulness, yield and grape quality. A low vigor site combined with a vertical trellis and leaf pulling opens up the canopy maximizing sunlight exposure and therefore fruitfulness (in addition to improving air circulation preventing rot).
Flowering (potential # berries/cluster)

Flowering or bloom occurs in April or May in California and June in Bordeaux and Burgundy. The flower cluster (which becomes the grape cluster after fruit set) contains up to 1,000 flowers. Bloom is the opening of the flowers in the spring following budbreak. Sections of a vineyard will bloom earlier where the soil warms more rapidly due to more favorable sun exposure. Cooler weather delays flowering and can be detrimental to quality as Burgundy grower Etienne Grivot points out, “In the ‘95 vintage we had a proportion of bad grapes. The flowering took place over a three-week period which was not absolutely perfect. The first grapes to flower were perfect at the crush, but the second part, maybe 5-6% of the grapes, had bad maturity and we had to make a selection and cut off these grapes.”

Fruit Set (actual # berries/cluster)

Fruit set occurs when a pollen grain fertilizes an individual flower, and the grape berry starts to grow. Usually only 20-30% of the flowers on a cluster set, the exact percentage determines the berries per cluster. Set is delayed by excessively low or high temperatures (water stress), rain or high humidity. Poor berry set (coulure in French) not only decreases yield but affects quality by preventing uniform ripeness within a cluster at harvest.
Crop Thinning & Overcropping

When a vine is carrying more fruit than it is able to ripen, it is overcropped. Green harvesting or crop thinning is the removal of excess grape clusters to insure that those remaining clusters will fully ripen. Chris Howell, Cain Cellars Winemaker discusses overcropping, “Anyone who works in vineyards is familiar with situations where the vine is visibly overcropped - there are all these grapes hanging out there and you don’t see that many leaves. The fruit is never going to have any intensity.”

Growers usually err on the side of leaving more crop on the vine. If excess crop is realized through good fruitfulness, flowering and set, it can be reduced so that the vine is carrying a crop it can ripen before fall weather patterns set in. Christian Moueix, who started crop thinning at Chateau Petrus in 1973 comments, “We need to crop thin in Bordeaux. Of course, when we crop thin usually in July we don’t know what the weather will be like in August and September. We have a feeling, we have a weather pattern, I will say, by that time and we adapt the level of crop thinning to the feeling of the vintage. If we are in a rainy year, we crop thin more severely, if we are in a hot year we crop thin a little less severely.”

Paul Pontallier, Technical Director at Chateau Margaux explains that crop thinning in Bordeaux is a more recent practice, “We at Margaux were the first to crop thin in the Medoc and that was in 1986. We had the experience of Petrus doing it for a few years. We try to keep our yield reasonably low because we never know if the conditions are going to be good or not.” Jean-Michel Cazes discusses his yield guidelines at Lynch Bages: “We try to get 50h/h. We look at the parcels before the harvest and when we see that yields might go over that limit, we discard the excess grapes. We try to green harvest at the time when the grapes become red (veraison) so that we can see which clusters are riper than others and get rid of the ones which are still green.”

Bruno Prats from Chateau Cos D’Estournel practices green harvesting only on young vines, “While their vigor is a little too strong,” he says. “It is a substitute when you have vines which are too vigorous and you want to artificially reduce the yield. It’s like pushing the gas pedal and the brake at the same time. It’s better not to use the brake and put in a little less gas.” He adds that to really achieve quality, “You must have a naturally low yield. We don’t have to do it on the old vines which normally produce low yields.”

In California, Ridge’s high altitude Monte Bello vineyard is faced with such potentially harsh spring weather that thinning is mandatory. Winemaker Paul Draper explains, “During flowering and set in at least one year out of three, the weather is so difficult that we must start with more buds and plan to thin if nature does not thin for us. If not, yields can often fall below one and a half tons/acre (20h/h) and adversely affect quality. In 1997, with good spring weather and a huge set, we dropped 30% of the crop and ended up with 3 tons/acre (40h/h) and a superb vintage. We are quite traditional in vineyard and winery practice, however, we feel that balancing the crop to the vine and to the conditions of the vintage is an essential part of the role of the vintner as guide rather than maker.”

The experience of David Gates, Ridge’s Vineyard Manager provides a compelling argument for drastic crop thinning and how it can be variety specific. Since younger vine Zinfandel tends to produce larger berries, carrying excess clusters causes the individual berries to remain small. The excess clusters are thinned at veraison. The remaining fruit goes into Ridge’s vineyard designate Zinfandels.

In Burgundy, green harvesting is not a standard practice. While Domaine Dujac has practiced it since 1989 at veraison, Domaine Roumier, Domaine Grivot and Comtes de Lafon crop thin only occasionally. Christophe Roumier comments, “I green harvested in ‘96, the last time before was in the young vines in ‘92 and before that in ‘86. Only in the young vines because the old vines don’t need it. The people who are green harvesting every year have young vines and they have no choice if they want to keep their quality.” Etienne Grivot states, “I don’t like to make a green harvest. If you have to put off a proportion of the green grapes, you have to understand why the quantity is too big. If you cut off 20% green grapes, you don’t obtain 20% less juice, just maybe 10%. So it means that you have less skin and more juice and you obtain the opposite - a kind of dilution. If the vineyard is too vigorous, it is normal to obtain too much fruit.”

Green harvesting is a controversial issue not only as to whether it should be done, but when it should be done and whether or not, as Grivot alludes to, the grapevine compensates for fewer clusters by producing larger berries. Dr. Nick Dokoozlian, Viticulturalist in the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology says compensation does not occur if you thin at veraison at which point berry enlargement is over, “Thinning at veraison does not normally show the data Grivot is showing. You don’t affect the crop based on berry size. If you thin at veraison, it is too late for the vine to compensate through berry size. If you thin too early you will get compensation because the berries are still growing in size.” But thinning at veraison is still an imperfect solution since the discarded cluster represents a waste of the vine’s energy.

Lafon’s views are more strident, “When I hear people talk about green harvest it makes me laugh. It’s so stupid to me - it’s just like saying to everybody that they have selected the wrong rootstock, the wrong clone, they have used too much fertilizer and that maybe they have the wrong pruning, so they have too much crop. It’s just that they have accumulated too many mistakes all the way through, and the only thing you can do is green harvest. I see it here, a lot of my customers say, ‘you must be doing green harvest’, I don’t. If I have to do it, I start to think and get back to viticulture to avoid it. You might have one small mistake in one vineyard, but if all your vineyards are like this, you are really doing things wrong. And I think you also have to accept that some vintages are more generous than others and if you have done everything right from the start, then you can take a bigger crop and make very good wines.”

Lafon’s outlook may seem idealistic to some growers in California who rely on crop thinning to compensate for the fact that rootstock and clone are not correctly matched to the site. Vineyards were originally planted according to research done at Davis funded by large wineries to develop the Central Valley. At that time, the mindset for low yields wasn’t there. AxR1 was chosen because it was easy to grow and graft typically onto high yielding clones. Francis Mahoney owner of Carneros Creek Winery cites an example, “You don’t want to put on a high-yielding clone on ground that is very shallow. Because in the springtime when there is plenty of moisture and sunshine, you’re going to set a big crop but the ground won’t be able to bring it along. So you end up with this, ‘let’s go drop the crop.’”

Lafon says that green harvesting is looked upon by some growers as an insurance policy: “A lot of people, when they prepare and work the vineyard, regard green harvest as good insurance. You put 80-90h/h every year on your vineyards. You crop thin to 50h/h for example, and every year you are sure that you will make 50h/h. If you do everything right to have 50h/h, then if there is frost or bad flowering, then you might go down to 25h/h. There are a lot of growers who just won’t accept that. It’s a question of money, when you lose half the crop at flowering, it’s not fun in a financial way. Some of my vineyards move from 20h/h to 50h/h, and for whites I take 50h/h when it all goes well and I am not going to crop thin. For reds the maximum we will gather is 40h/h.”

Although there is a lack of consensus regarding crop thinning, there is agreement that overcropping dilutes flavor intensity. The consequences extend to the following year - the excess crop exhausts the vine by depleting its stored energy reserves causing sluggish growth the following spring leading to reduced fruitfulness, excessive vegetative growth, shading of clusters and delayed maturity. But there is no exact point when overcropping begins. “I don’t think that there is anyone, anywhere who denies the fact that if you overcrop a vine it will affect wine quality,” remarks Steve Hill who farms 250 acres of Sonoma’s Durrell Ranch. He adds, “The question is, where does overcropping begin? At what point do you begin to affect wine quality”. Nonetheless, the temptation is strong in California to hang extra crop due to grape shortages resulting from two successive short crops (’95 and ’96), replantings due to phylloxera and the sustained high demand for top quality California wine. The late Justin Meyer, former winemaker at Silver Oak Cellars commented, “A lot of people are pushing their vines hard now because it’s a high demand, high price time and they figure that now is the time to get rich. And you can push them over the edge. I don’t care if you have twice as much if it’s half as attractive.”

Since the grape business has turned into a seller’s market, some California winemakers who buy grapes on the open market are protecting themselves against the potential for overcropping by entering into acreage contracts. Let’s say Cabernet Sauvignon costs $2,000/ton from a vineyard which the grower usually produces 5 tons/acre. The winemaker will pay the grower $10,000/acre and instruct the grower to limit yields to whatever crop level the winemaker feels is necessary to produce the best wine. California’s first acreage contract was in 1993 when Ted Lemon of Littorai Winery produced a vineyard designated Pinot Noir called “One Acre.” Lemon explains his motivation, “I wanted to underline that yield containment was the future, not only for California but especially Anderson Valley Pinot, whose soils can support yields of 4-5 tons/acre; that the diluted, simple that had come out of Anderson Valley resulted from a lack of viticultural input.”

Pontallier comments as to whether overcropping exists in Bordeaux, “In Bordeaux, our Appellation Controllee system has fixed limits for production because we know from very, very old experience that overcropping is bad for quality - even if the level of the crop is not easy to fix. But in order to protect the quality of our winegrowing areas, we have for each, limits of yield. In other winegrowing areas where there is no limitation, people have a natural tendency - if they have a good market - to produce more wine, which we cannot do.”

In Burgundy, the incentive to overproduce has always existed due to the historically high demand for limited quantities of wine. Unfortunately, of all grapes, Pinot Noir suffers most from overproduction in a climate where the penalties are so severe. Jacques Seysses comments, “There was a period where Burgundy overcropped, no doubt. One should remember that in the ‘50s, a grower in Burgundy was having a hard time making a living with his production. So the trend at that time was to replant a selection that would produce more so that they could live better. That selection didn’t lead to quality. As these vines got older they made better wine, but it is not the same as if the selection was good in the beginning.”

Conversely, an undercropped vine will have equally detrimental effects on quality. Cain’s Howell, comments, “Where there is a big jungle of foliage and you don’t see the fruit, the little bit of fruit that is buried in that foliage is going to taste like vegetables.” When a vine is in balance, further reducing yields may decrease quality, according to Tom Rochioli, “Last year (1996) yields were off 40% so the vines were out of balance. We pulled leaves and opened up the canopy to expose the fruit. Nonetheless, the ‘96 wines had a slight herbal edge. The wines were not bad, but I went to the edge of where I wanted to be with regard to these flavors.” Herbal or vegetal flavors such as asparagus or bell pepper come from sunlight sensitive compounds called pyrazines and are extracted from the skin of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc during fermentation. High levels of pyrazines are found in fruit that has been shaded by excessive foliage. Growers pull leaves and position shoots to improve the light environment around the clusters. A high leaf to fruit ratio while good for ripening, is bad for the veggies.

Somewhere between overcropping and undercropping as Rochioli alluded to, the vine is in balance, a balance between foliage (canopy, leaf surface area, shoot length) and the number of clusters. This balance creates more fruit in some sites and less fruit in other sites, meaning that yield cannot be talked about without discussing a specific growing region and site.
How Yield and Quality are Related Within a Growing Region

Within every growing region, there is a range of yields, which will maximize quality. Seysses explains his experience with Pinot Noir in Burgundy, “Sometimes high yield goes with quality and sometimes low yield goes with quality. If you look at the ‘70’s, the two lowest yields were ‘75 and ‘78, one was the worst and one the best - so it is not that simple.” Recent vintages in Burgundy demonstrate that high yielding vintages can produce high quality, as Grivot points out, “’96 was a bigger vintage than ‘95 and it gives you idea that it is not absolutely necessary to obtain a low quantity to obtain perfect wine. In ‘96 everything was very nice from the beginning to the end, so it was possible to obtain perfect wine with 40h/h (in Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards) versus 30-32h/h in ‘95.” For Grivot, the quality level and aging potential of the two vintages are about the same, he adds, “But their personality is different, ‘95 has a kind of austerity and ‘96 is opulent and elegant.”

“I had double the crop in ‘96 that I had in ‘95 (20h/h in ‘95 and 40h/h in ‘96),” recalls Lafon, “Different types of vintages but of equal quality, I would say.” Lafon points out that low yields do not guarantee quality, “you might have a very small crop with terrible wines. The best recent example in Burgundy is 1981.” Lafon concurs with Seysses that there is a range of crop levels which will produce quality: “You can have the same level of quality whether you are doing 20h/h or 35h/h.” Seysses concurs, saying that while in general, larger berries do dilute flavor, there are exceptions, “Even though we aimed for the same low production, in ‘95 the average weight of a bunch of grapes was 75 grams and in ‘96 it was 120 grams/cluster - there were larger berries and more clusters. The weather conditions were ideal to make great quality despite quantity.”

Cazes states that in higher yielding vintages in Bordeaux, you can also get higher quality. “There is definitely not a relationship between quantity and quality as long as you keep the yield within a reasonable range. The best vintages of the past in Bordeaux - ‘82,’85,’89 and ‘90 were the highest yielding. And the lowest yields of the ‘80’s - ‘84 and ‘87 - were the worst vintages. I am not saying that it is a rule, that you must have high yields. I am saying that quantity and quality are not contradictory, that just because you produce a small volume, it doesn’t mean you make better wine. I remember a time when if you looked at the highest yields of the commune of Pauillac, it was Latour and they made the best wine. Latour was kept as a garden, it was absolutely perfect, not one plant missing. I wish that people who write about low yields would look into this.”
How Yield and Quality are Related Between Growing Regions

It is misleading to superimpose yield levels from one growing region onto another because one size does not fit all. Pontallier points out, “Yield is one important factor of quality not only in Bordeaux but everywhere in the world - but it is not necessarily the same limit everywhere.” The limit depends on factors such as climate and grape variety. Lemon explains the difference between warm and cool growing regions, “In warmer climates with greater numbers of days of direct sunlight you can you hang a larger crop and you can ripen it and the vine won’t struggle. As you move into more northerly climates where you have less days of solar exposure, the same size crop will overload and stress the vine making it unable to produce a quality crop.” Dokoozlian contrasts the conditions in California with those in France, “Look at the huge difference in solar radiation, we’re 25-30% warmer in our premium growing regions. We have a much more stable climate, our latitude is different giving us greater day length and sun exposure. All of the conditions in California are conducive to growth while the conditions in France are much less so.”

Moueix’ contrasts Bordeaux with California based on his experiences at Dominus with similar grape varieties but different climate, “In very hot vintages in Bordeaux, like 1947 and 1989, we can afford slightly bigger yields. But to make a good wine with the weather conditions we have in Bordeaux, which is always limiting in terms of heat, it is critical to keep yields lower. In Bordeaux, we cannot produce good wines above four tons/acre (60hl/hec) and we cannot produce great wines above 3.5 tons/acre (50h/h). The top equilibrium for me in Bordeaux is between 2-3 tons/acre. In California, I think the fact that we can afford bigger yields is due to a completely different weather pattern, and different quality of the soils; I think we need bigger yields to make better wine. At least in the soils I know, which are rather rich soils, at 2.5 tons/acre, which for instance, were my first years at Dominus, the wines were too tannic. I find the equilibrium is roughly 1 ton above Bordeaux - 3.5 tons/acre (50h/h) is the best, and we can produce good wines up to 5 tons/acre (70h/h).” While Lemon agrees with Moueix’s comments as they relate to Cabernet Sauvignon, he believes they do not apply to Pinot Noir. To make great Pinot Noir, similar yield levels are necessary in both Burgundy and California.

Pontallier discusses the importance of keeping yields low in a cool growing region like Bordeaux, “If climatic conditions are wonderful in Bordeaux, we can have higher yield and make great wine until 60h/h. One of the greatest vintages we had in the last twenty years was ‘82, a year of very high yields, close to 60hl/hectare. But if climatic conditions are very difficult, if you have controlled your yield under 40hl/hectare, you can make very decent wine. But if you overproduce, you have no chance to get your grapes ripe.” He adds, “And that is why we try to keep - in our conditions in Bordeaux - yields not as low as possible, because that makes no sense. But in our conditions, with our terroir, with our average climatic conditions and with our viticultural practices, our experience shows that in most vintages, between 40-55hl/hectare (3-4 tons/acre), you work very well.”

In addition to climate, grape variety is another significant factor in determining crop levels. White grapes can support a larger crop better than reds, a fact that is written into Burgundy’s Appellation Controlee laws. Chardonnay in particular, can tolerate higher yields better than other white grapes because it is such a neutral aromatic variety, easily influenced by winemaking practices. Mondavi’s Bledsoe comments, “Some producers use high-yielding clones, pick late to maximize flavors thus producing higher alcohol wines. Combined with sur lie aging, new oak and malolactic fermentation, these are ‘in your face,’ reserve-style Chardonnays that are getting high scores and that people love.”

For red varieties, in addition to ripeness measured by brix, pH and acidity, ripeness of tannins or physiological ripeness, is indispensable to quality. Since extra crop delays ripening, underipe tannins means a hard, astringent or vegetal wine. If a grower waits until the tannins are ripe, sugars may be too high and acid too low resulting in an alcoholic, flabby, even prune-like wine. This is a greater risk in warmer climates such as California as Lemon comments, “Overcropping delays maturity. Adequate sugar levels may be produced but it will occur through dehydration while maturity of other components such as tannins and flavor and aroma compounds, do not fully develop.”

The range of yields that will produce quality is lower in Burgundy than Bordeaux because fruit quality drops off most dramatically with increases in yield for Pinot Noir as compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. Calera Winemaker, Josh Jensen observes, “There is especially with Pinot Noir an inverse relationship between yield and quality. If a wine is hurt by filtration, Pinot Noir will be hurt the most; if a given practice causes a wine to oxidize, Pinot Noir will oxidize the fastest; if a wine suffers from overcropping, Pinot Noir will suffer the most. Intensity and concentration decrease as yields go up. As you go from one ton/acre to two, the wine quality won’t dramatically change. But from two to three tons/acre, the wines start to get noticeably lighter and thinner.”

Low yields, when achieved through severe pruning and crop thinning do not necessarily guarantee quality.
Prats states, “It is quite obvious that low yield is necessary to achieve the highest quality, provided that low yield is achieved through low vigor and not through green harvesting or diseases which destroy the crop. The problem is not to control the yield but to control the vigor of the vine. That is the major quality factor.”

As Prats points out, the best wines are produced from vineyard sites which naturally control vine vigor and therefore yield, making the selection of the proper vineyard site critical. The French refer to site with a more all-encompassing term, terroir, the sum total of all physical factors affecting the vine: soil depth, composition, drainage, water holding capacity, slope and exposition. Cazes adds, “The soil is the basis of the site, or terroir as we say. Latour is the best vineyard in Bordeaux. Why is that, just because where it is, that particular hill. The soil is thick, at the same time very porous, the water doesn’t stay in the soil, there are lots of pebbles, it’s a warmer microclimate than the others resulting in better ripening.”

Unlike France which has a 200-year head start, California is still identifying the sites where its greatest wines will come from. Draper states, “Only wines whose character is determined by the site rather than the winemaking have the potential to be “great wines” in the historical sense of that phrase. If a producer attempts to make great wine, site becomes of overriding importance.” Yet in California, more is heard about the winemaker’s than the vineyard’s contribution to quality. Although this is changing, Draper explains why terroir is a more central concept in France, “The French depend on a single vineyard to produce a very high quality wine, which is radically different from a new world definition in which quality is achieved through blending the wines from different vineyards, where no one wine need stand alone nor be of distinctive quality.”

According to Pontallier, the importance of site can overshadow even that of old vines. The oldest vines, which he considers to be over 35 years old, do not necessarily produce the most concentrated and profound wines every year. “It depends once more on the site, the location, than on all of the other factors. The best sites are those where the vines are never stressed - a well-drained site with good water reserves where if it rains too much the vines are not overfed with water or if there is a lack of water they can still find some water resources. Too much water makes for an excess of vigor and of course that is not good for the quality of the wine.”

Howell says it is important to understand your vineyard in terms of its site, “For a rich, fertile soil - defined by deep rooting depth (5 feet), fairly well-drained with good nutrients and availability to water - you have to have higher yields and the potential for quality is just not there.” Bledsoe agrees saying that, “It’s quite obvious that for a lower price point wine you have to have a higher yield so you should plant in a site that is likely to give you higher yields. In some growing areas it is appropriate for the goal to be 8-10 tons/acre because that is what is needed to produce an $8 bottle of wine and stay competitive. The problem in any discussion of yield and quality is that no one qualifies it by saying ‘our goal is trying to produce a $30 bottle of wine or a $12 bottle.”

Francis Mahoney explains how great Pinot Noir, unlike great Chardonnay is entirely dependent on site, “If you’ve got a fertile site in the Carneros, you plant Chardonnay where yield is not so crucial and the winemaker is going to take over and do his magic through the use of yeast and oak. That is not to say that a low-yielding Chardonnay isn’t spectacular, but generally, the public doesn’t appreciate it as much. But when you get to Pinot Noir, you put it on river bottom soil and you end up with vegetative, tomato leaf flavors, color suffers and it’s watered down with no texture. Even if you drop the crop through green harvesting you’re still not going to achieve what you want. When people say Pinot Noir is hard to grow, it’s really not hard to grow, it’s just more site specific.”

Steve Hill from the Durell Ranch stresses the importance of matching the crop level to the productivity of individual vineyard blocks. “We want to stay in business and we simply want to raise the most grapes we can without affecting quality. So we generally let the site dictate to us what that crop level should be. Some sites are very productive and we’ll let the vine be in balance and on those sites we will get higher yields.” The Durell Ranch sells grapes to numerous wineries and Hill points out that quality means different things to different people, depending on the wine they are trying to make. “All of the wineries want quality but there are two sides to perceived quality: one is simply clean grapes, without mildew, without leaves, without rot. If a winery gets those types of grapes, they may be satisfied. Another is a winery that wants not only clean grapes but they want the best grapes to make the best wine.”

Lafon addresses the popular assumption that yields per hectare are lower on Grand Cru vineyards compared to Premier Cru vineyards. “No, that is not always true. You could produce as much on a Grand Cru as you could on another vineyard, but you manage the vineyard to make a smaller crop. Corton Charlemagne, Chevalier Montrachet and Musigny are known for small production because of their poor soil. But there is nice soil in Richebourg, Montrachet, Batard Montrachet and Chambertin and I am sure in those Grand Crus you could make 50h/h every year. So then it’s cultivation work to achieve a smaller crop.”

In California, with replantings due to phylloxera, the challenge is matching site and grape variety. The late Justin Meyer commented, “The first step is finding a good site and planting the correct variety. You get that right and everything kind of falls in place. You screw it up and all the other stuff – trellis systems, spacing – are just Band Aids to try and fix the fact that you didn’t adapt the right variety to the right soil.” He explained the difficulties of this process, “You can make some educated guesses, look at soil moisture capacity and fertility and rootstock, but it’s still a crap shoot. But we should be smarter now because we have the experience from last planting boom which began in 1972. So we would be fools to go back and plant the same variety someplace where it didn’t do well.” According to Draper, “It is only after a vineyard is mature (10-12 years old) and the fruit, of itself, produces distinctive character and high quality, that the grower will know that his choice of site and varietal was correct.”

Vine Age

One of the key differences between young and old vines is the root system. With young vines, the shallower root system means they will suffer from drought and from excess rain. Young vines suffer from water stress more acutely because of a shallower root system. Lafon recounts his experience in the 1997 vintage, “We had a drought in Burgundy this summer (1997). While it was not long - July and August - when you are dealing with very poor soils as we have, it can be pretty dry.” To cope with water stress, a vine switches from photosynthesis to respiration, which consumes malic acid, a problem in some young vine cuvees in ‘97 according to Roumier, “It’s true that last year some people had to re-acidify their cuvees. And above all again, in young vines because they had burned the acidity.” Dehydration is another consequence of water stress. Roumier explains, “Because it was also quite warm last September, it may have slowed down the process of feeding and induced a kind of overripeness in the young vines.”

Young vines often have a good balance between foliage and fruit which in California, without stress from excess drought or rainfall can produce excellent wine. This commonly recognized fact among California winemakers doesn’t make it into the press. Winemakers are reluctant to admit to the wine writer that the Cabernet Sauvignon that just floored him came from 3-year-old vines because it contradicts conventional wisdom.

Moueix, with 30 years experience in Bordeaux and more recently, 15 years in California, contrasts California with Bordeaux: “Sixteen years ago, I remember asking Joe Heitz how old the vines need to be to produce a good wine, he told me two years. I thought he was laughing at me, but he has proved to be right. We definitely can produce very good wine from young vines - don’t ask me why. In Bordeaux, there is no way to produce great wine with young wines. To produce a great wine, the vines need to be at least 10-15 years old. Except sometimes in the third or fourth year when by accident, with very severe crop thinning, we will produce let’s say, a good wine, not a great wine.”

Dokoozlian speculates as to why young vines can produce good wine in California and rarely in France, “In California you are giving young vines all the water they need, you are manipulating the system to compensate for the fact that they are small, young vines. In France, if vines experience a drought in their third or fourth season and they don’t have a fully expanded root system, they are in trouble.” As for old vines, Dokoozlian points out that they do not always produce lower yields, “When old vines start producing less it’s because they have some type of pest or disease pressure which limits vine capacity- eutypa, nematodes or phylloxera chewing on their roots. So the vines don’t just poop out on their own. We have some very old vines, 30-40 years old that if they are not stressed, produce normal, more than adequate yields.” Nonetheless, by the time a vine is 40-50 years old, its energy level is compromised resulting in smaller berries, smaller clusters and less berries per cluster. Color and aroma compounds are located in the skins, so particularly for red wines, smaller berries mean a higher ratio of skin to juice resulting wines of deeper color and greater concentration.

Rochioli is a believer in old vines, “The vineyard I make my Reserve Sauvignon Blanc from was planted in 1959. The combination of an old clone and old vines produce low yields and fruit intensity not typical of what we are used to seeing today. The vines are full of fan-leaf virus and who knows what else. Old vines have trouble setting a crop, which is why the grapes from these vines are irregularly sized - ‘peas and pumpkins’. The vines have not yet been affected by phylloxera. I’m dealing with very special vineyards and I’d hate to lose them.” Lemon believes the importance of old vines is related to climate: “In marginal climates there are some clear reasons why old vines can produce better quality fruit. They do have greater root systems, so if you are in a drought year or you can’t irrigate - as in France - these vines are going to have an ability to keep going and avoid dehydrating the fruit. In areas where you can irrigate, you could make the argument that you don’t need old vines. My personal feeling is that you need mature vines - 10 years or older.”

Pontallier offers his experience at Margaux: “Vine age is one of the other important factors of quality in our conditions. It is something we know for centuries that only the old vines can make very deep, profound and dense wines. How old is it necessary to be depends on all the other conditions. Because, once again, all of these factors are interrelated. We consider young vines to be under 15 years old. In most conditions, there is no chance at Margaux, for the vines to make the first blend. They normally enter the second blend (Pavillon Rouge). But we have two or three plots which have extremely good soils, are extremely well situated and which can make wonderful wine after 8 or 9 years.”

Grivot comments on vine age, “It is possible to obtain perfect fruit after 15-20 years. It is always dangerous to produce wine with old vines because one day it will become a new vineyard. I suppose that the life of a vineyard is about 50 years so I try each year to replant 1/50th of the vineyard, to maintain a good average in young and old vines.”

Aside from their affect on wine quality, the old vines or vieilles vignes designation is a powerful marketing tool, as the outspoken Meyer pointed out, “When people say that old vines produce better vines, you can be sure of one thing: they have old vines.” Lafon is adamantly opposed to the practice of writing old vines on the bottle. He says, “I would never do it. There is no law which specifies how old the vines have to be; you can have a 25 year old vineyard and call it old vines.” Draper agrees, “Because there are no agreed upon standards, there is a potential for consumer deception in allowing the phrase “old vines” a prominent place on wine labels.”

A clonal vineyard is a vineyard made up of vines of identical genetic make-up, producing grapes of similar size and composition. But over time, random genetic mutations occur so that the vineyard is no longer a single clone but a collection of vines producing grape clusters of different size, berry color and ripeness. George Hendry, owner and winemaker at Hendry Vineyards explains, “What I call a clone is when I can look at every vine in the vineyard and I can say that fairly recently, it came from one vine in say, the Dijon Field Station if it’s a Dijon 115 clone. I have a block of that and I know that wood was recently imported and is probably genetically still quite close to the Dijon 115.” Hendry compares the term selection, “When I get bud wood from an old vineyard that I like, that would be a selection because I cannot trace it with reasonable assurance to one vine.” For example, all California Chardonnay is thought to come from Wente’s original planting in Livermore. The numerous Old Wente clones are in fact, not clones because they bear little genetic resemblance to the vines planted 100 years ago. Hendry adds, “I actually have two different selections which I call Old Wente 1 and Old Wente 2. They tend to be rather poor setting so yields are relatively low. Because that vineyard has been around for a very long time the genetic diversity and hence the flavor diversity in the wine tends to be quite high. You’re getting different things from each which show up in the wine.”

Mahoney explains, “Each clone makes a personality statement, kind of like an artist working with different colors. If one vintage’s weather pattern takes away something from one clone, you can usually put it back in there for your house style by selecting another clone. It’s not unusual for us to have 40 different lots of Pinot Noir and it’s not necessarily just that they arrived on different days, that could be, but the more overriding issue is that we try to keep the clones from a particular vineyard separate and utilize them as ingredients in the context of our house style.”

Clone is not a big issue in Bordeaux as Pontallier explains, “In Bordeaux, you have in the same terroir, some good clones and some lesser ones. It’s not a huge thing but it is another factor to consider, but after several others, like terroir. There is less variation between the clones of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot than in Burgundy, where clone is more important because there is a wider genetic variation between the clones of Pinot Noir.”

The debate in Burgundy is between growers who over the last 25 years have planted individual clones and those who have stayed with the traditional selection process called mass selection. Mass selection involves the selection of the best vines from a standpoint of favorable fruit set, yield and ripening. Buds are removed and grafted onto new vines, as Etienne Grivot explains, “You go into your vineyard and you make a selection of the best vines. It is dangerous because even if the leaves seem very good, maybe you have some illness inside. Even if you are a good winegrower, the job is too difficult, you don’t have the competence to know this.” As Grivot alludes to, a vine that may appear to be healthy and vigorous may actually contain virus, which is unknowingly transmitted to the new vines.

Mass selected vineyards, by containing numerous different, unidentified clones can express more of the variation and complexity of the Pinot Noir grape. But Roumier says the problem with massale is that it is an irregular selection, “It is extremely hazardous because without exceptionally healthy, old vines from which you can select buds, you multiply the virus in your vines, and they may not get really old and then you have to replant earlier. Is this really better than good clones from the beginning that are able to age?” Roumier relies on clone while recognizing the benefits of massale selection, “Nowadays we have good yielding clones that are able to produce grapes of really good constitution, so we can match some massale selection with some good clones. When I replant vineyards, I use eight different clones and I always plant with them, a massale selection which represents about 10% of the total plantation. The massale selection is not mine because I don’t have in my vineyards in Chambolle, the good, old vines to give me the buds to make the massale selection myself. So I buy it from someone who I trust.”

In Burgundy, the first clonal selection was done about 25 years ago. Vineyards older than this were planted by mass selection. Seysses, who has been replanting with clonal selections for 22 years explains why looking at vine age only can be misleading without considering the quality of the selection: “Some old vines have a great selection and produce small berries which make very good wine. Some old vines that have a very poor selection will produce big berries and the wine is not very good. I have in the Clos St. Denis area, for example, three plots, one is a 12 year-old clonal selection making wonderful wine, another is a 40 year old clonal selection doing very well and another plot with 40 year old vines which is not doing as well because the selection was very poor at the beginning.”

Grivot is a believer in clones, “I don’t know why people are against clones. From 1985 we have planted vineyards with clones and the results have been absolutely perfect, better than if you use a bad selection with old vines.”

Lafon further documents the fact that fruit quality with old vines is dependent on the quality of the original selection, “I have a vineyard in Volnay Champans which is 75 years old. When I took over, the guy who was running the vineyard told me that, ‘when the vineyard was young, it was so beautiful, everybody was taking grafts from it.’ I pulled out the vines from a small part of it and did a massale selection from cuttings from the best vines I had selected during a three-year period. It was amazing - we kept just 20 vines out of 1,000 vines we had planted. While there were some interesting small berries in the massale, there were plenty of really high production type of vines, showing that the old selection was fairly productive.” Lafon explains that chemicals were not yet available to fight disease and growers were losing a lot of grapes to mildew. These growers were struggling financially and were looking for nice production vines so a lot of the selections planted at that time were for big grapes.

At the heart of the controversy is the convention of expressing yield in terms of tons/acre of hectoliters/hectare. Growers who have replanted their vineyards to clonal selections have approximately 9,900 vines producing out of 10,000 resulting in higher yields per hectare and lower yields per vine than mass selected vineyards.

Yield/vine is a more accurate measure of quality because a lower yield/vine means that each vine is better able to fully ripen a smaller cropload. And with more vines/hectare, yield/hectare goes up along with quality. A clonal vineyard producing 30hl/ha is actually carrying half the yield/vine as a mass selected vineyard yielding 15hl/ha with half of the vines dead or sterile will, yet the stated yield is double! Winemakers are annoyed when wine writers who fail to understand this distinction.

Lafon comments, “When you get a very old vineyard having one vine out of three vines in production, sure you can talk about very low yield but what does it mean? Some producers here in Burgundy are talking low yields but with so many dead vines in their vineyards that it means nothing. It is better to have an average age vineyard with a low yield per vine than having one out of three vines in production.” He adds that if you have an old vineyard in good shape versus a young vineyard in good shape, the old vineyard will make better wine.

Lafon compares the performance of a vineyard containing clones with vines propagated through mass selection: “I have a bit of young vines (6 years old, clonal selection) in Meursault Charmes, the other part is 65 years old (mass selection) and this year in ‘97, I had the exact same crop in both vineyards - 40h/h. If you go back to crop/vine, in the 6-year-old vines, it is smaller than the crop/vine in the old vineyard. The 65 year old vineyard is missing some vines and some are not producing, whereas all of the vines are producing in the young vineyard.” This means 10,000 vines/hectare which is why Lafon explains that it is more work keeping yields down in a clonal vineyard, “each vine is in good shape and produces grapes. You can deal with clonal selection and not have too big production as long as you prune short enough and don’t use fertilizer. You can adjust the pruning to have the exact crop you want. However, the quality is not as good from the young vines, but in time they will make very good wine.”

Jean-Michel Cazes explains that wine writers do not factor in spacing when they talk about the yields, “a yield that may appear very low, might be actually be a relatively high yield when you look at the plantation density and the other way around. If you take a vineyard which is 7,500 plants/hectare with 35% of the plants missing and then you have another vineyard which is 9,000 plants/hectare with no plants missing, you would expect that with the same kind of care and dedication you would get twice as much wine in the second example. I resent the kind of speech that ‘my wine is great because I only produce 20h/h.’ I think that is ridiculous. What is the actual yield per existing plant? I remember one of the leading Chateau’s in the Medoc years ago. The owner, who lived in Paris, was very proud because his vineyards only produced 25h/h. And at the same time, the manager of the vineyard would tell me that he would just maintain the part of the vineyard that could be seen from the terrace; the rest of the vineyard was a disaster.” Cazes states that getting 20-25h/h means either low density, bad maintenance or heterogeneity of the plantation. “It’s not that you don’t produce fine wines with 20-25h/h, but it’s not necessary, at least in Bordeaux. In Burgundy, it’s different, Pinot Noir is less productive, everything being equal, you get less grapes with Pinot Noir than with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. So instead of getting 45-50h/h in a very good vineyard, you would get 35h/h.”

According to Cazes, there has been a long debate in France about doing away with the concept of yield per hectare. “I remember Monsieur Borie of Ducru Beaucaillou wanted to go from a maximum yield per hectare to a maximum yield per plant. But it’s too complicated to survey, the INAO didn’t have the means to maintain a file with the density of plantation for each individual grower.” The simplest method is to measure the yield per hectare which is invalid without considering density, condition and another factor, homogeneity. “If you look at the parcels of old vines, one vine has one or two clusters and the next one has five or six. I think the modern plantation and nursery techniques can provide us with more homogenous materials to plant. A low yield in a well-maintained vineyard with homogenous production of 40 or 45h/h with old vines is perfect.”
Vine Density

Vine density has important implications for yield since the more vines/acre, the higher the yield/acre. Quality implications are less clear, as great wines are produced from differing spacing regimes. Spacing in Bordeaux and Burgundy is 1m x 1m. Lemon speculates, “the reason the vines are planted so densely is because the vines were farmed by hand using horses for many, many years. There was no fertilizer or virus control.” He adds that in the absence of modern viticultural techniques to keep vineyards healthy, the maximum number of vines/hectare were planted to compensate for the inevitable loss of vines. Furthermore, high density is necessary in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Their low vigor soils means the vines will never get very big so packing them close together is the most efficient utilization of the site. Dokoozlian articulates, “The spacing in France is based on shallower, lower fertility soils. When you don’t irrigate and you have drought periods where you don’t get a lot of vigor, you need high density in order to get economic yields.”

Andy Beckstoffer describes changes in California vineyards spacing, “Today, land values are so high so that we have to be smarter about our farming technology and that means closer spacing - utilizing all the sunlight and soil in a given acre. The land has been underutilized. We knew that, but even if we produced more grapes, who was going to buy them?” Close spacing on the richer soils of California means dense canopies close to one another requiring higher canopy management costs to prevent shading and poor air circulation. Nonetheless, the trend in California is to increase planting denisty for new vineyards. But the premise that few disagree with is that competition between neighboring vines for available moisture and nutrients results in smaller vines making it easier for each vine to fully ripen its smaller cropload before the threat of rain increases. But there are limits on vine density depending on site, variety and a winegrower’s attitudes toward change. These factors are illustrated by Calera’s new Pinot Noir plantings. Although the soils are similar to Burgundy - low nutrient, dry soils with little water holding capacity - wider spacing is necessary because the lack of rain during the growing season and an inability to irrigate. Bledsoe explains, “Your soil is your reservoir and you have to save all that area between vines for the winter moisture. The soils don’t have the water to support the higher density and the soil doesn’t have enough moisture and nutrition to support that root density.” Josh Jensen is doubling the density on his new vineyards - going from 6’X10’ (726 vines/acre) to 4’X7.5’ (1,452 vines/acre). With twice as many plants per acre, he is doubling his development costs/acre while maintaining yields of two tons/acre. Jensen is counting on improving the concentration and quality of what are already among California’s finest Pinot Noir. He adds, “I am investing in quality, I am putting my money where my mouth is.”

Vine density is in flux in California because growers are still figuring out what combination of spacing, rootstock, clone and soil will maximize yield and quality. Pontallier explains that France’s Appellation Controlee system, by specifying how a vineyard is to be planted, reflects a 200-year head start on California, “The privilege we have is that we have a longer experience than most others in the world. Spacing has changed in some parts of Bordeaux, but as far as the finest areas are concerned like the Medoc, we still have 10,000 vines/hectare, exactly the same as we had last century. It has not changed because it is part of the viticultural practices which have to be extremely well adapted to the site. If you change just one of them, you have the risk of ruining your potential for quality.”

Prats describes the relationship between vine vigor and plantation density in Bordeaux “In the Medoc, most of the classified growths have a density between 8,000 to 10,000 vines/hectare. In the rest of the Medoc, 6,500 vines/hectare is the rule. In the regional Bordeaux area it is about 4,000 vines/hectare. The soil is richer in the lesser class Chateaux, therefore the vines are more vigorous which calls for a lower density planting. Higher density works when the vines are very low in vigor. The close spacing forces a competition between the neighboring row which forces the rootstock to go down.”

In California, denser spacing is shifting the focus from yield /acre to yield/vine. Chris Howell agrees that what is important is not the amount of fruit per acre but the amount of fruit per vine, “As we are increasing vine density, we are hoping that the yields will increase but that quality will remain as good or perhaps even increase.” California’s traditional 8’X12’ spacing translates to 454 vines/acre. Howell points out that densities are increasing to a maximum of 2,000 vines/acre, “With five times as many vines, it doesn’t mean that you going to have five times as much fruit. But what if you have twice as much fruit? And that old, low density, barely trellised vineyard goes from producing 3 tons/acre to 6 tons/acre? Does that mean that the quality has necessarily declined? Of course not, the quality may be the best ever.” But Howell feels there are limits to improving quality with increased density, “You don’t get 8 tons/acre any way and produce high quality, I don’t care how many vines you have.”

Andy Humphrey, former Vineyard Manager for Archery Summit discusses Oregon’s transition to close spacing: “I started farming grapes in Yamhill Valley in 1986 and at that time everything in Oregon was on wide spacing (5x10 or 6x9) and dry-farmed with yields for Pinot Noir of 3.5 to 4 or more tons/acre, a little heavier than the trend is now. In 1988, Domaine Drouhin moved into the area and planted vineyards that were .85mx1m which they took directly from Burgundy. The first wine they released blew some people’s socks off and that was the impetus in Oregon for looking at close spacing.” Humphrey describes the influx of more technically trained people with experience from other growing regions, among them Gary Andrus from Pine Ridge and Ted Lemon from Littorai whose training was in Burgundy. “When Gary started looking at a Pinot Noir project, he was using Ted Lemon as his consultant. Not only did Domaine Drouhin reinforce the benefits of close spacing, but Gary, Ted and I went around and tasted hundreds of wines and what always came through was that the lower the yield, the higher the quality. If you walk into the vineyards of those producing the highest priced wines and the highest rated wines you will see close spacing, low yields, and balanced plants. If you walk into the vineyards of those producers in Oregon making $8 bottles of Pinot Noir you will see big yields, bushy plants, wide spacing and late ripening.”

Humphrey discusses the importance of what the French have known for many years - keeping yield/vine low to achieve ripeness while increasing the number of vines/acre to attain economic yields. “6’x9’ spacing and 3.5 tons/acre produces mediocre wine. You can make excellent wine with 6’x9’spacing, but you have to get the yield/vine down so low that you can’t stay in business. If you are making a $50/bottle of wine off 6’x9’ spacing at 1 ton/acre, this is uneconomical. If you double the number of plants/acre while keeping the yield/vine low, you double your yield while maintaining quality. So far to date this has held true.” This is illustrated in the table below showing two different spacing regimes where pounds/plant and wine quality are, according to Humphrey, the same. “The closer spacing is more labor intensive; you have four times as many plants but it does not cost four times as much to farm. The key is pounds/plant, which is the same in both of these spacing scenarios, but the wider spacing is a poorer utilization of the ground and the sunlight.”

6’ x 9’
3.5 x 6’
Even though many of the top Oregon producers have gone to dense spacing, Humphrey explains why the issue of clone makes comparing quality between wide and dense spacing difficult, “At about the same time that phylloxera became a problem, new clones such as Dijon became available, producing smaller clusters and smaller berries which tended to ripen earlier. The current trend is 1mx2m with newly released Dijon clones on phylloxera-resistant rootstock. Traditionally, all that had been planted was Pommard and Wadenswil on wider spacing, so it is difficult to compare wine quality from these traditional wider spacings with the newer, denser plantings - it’s apples and oranges.” Lemon says the evidence in favor of Archery Summit’s close spacing is conclusive, “Since we began Archery Summit, the vineyards have been harvested at the highest ripeness levels at least a week before most people in the Red Hills of Dundee who have wider spacing.” 
Mondavi: Close Spacing on Oakville Soils

Some say that it is in the poor soils of Bordeaux and Burgundy where these highest density vineyards make sense because the vines will never get big. But this is contradicted by Robert Mondavi’s apparent success with close spacing on Oakville’s considerably richer soils. With closely spaced vineyards for all Bordeaux varieties, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, few wineries have made the commitment to close spacing that Mondavi has. “The concept of a low vigor vine is the key,” Bledsoe says. He explains the conditions needed to achieve a low vigor vine, “a well-drained soil so water is not too available, not overly nutritious so growth is limited, combined with the proper combination of rootstock, spacing and grape variety.” Mondavi started doing research on rootstocks back in the early 80’s, long before phylloxera. “We were evaluating some of the newer rootstocks compared to the older ones planted more commonly around California. The older rootstocks (AxR#1) were selected for their viticultural performance, that is high vigor, high yielding, drought tolerant and easy to grow. They produced big, strong vines that you could plant far apart (8’X12’) and would fill up those spaces between the vines and the vineyard was fully productive in its fifth year. But when we looked at it from a wine quality standpoint we found a pretty strong correlation - in particular for the red varieties - between lower vigor rootstocks producing smaller vines and wines that were more intense, deeply colored with more emphasis on fruit flavors rather than vegetal flavors.”

Based on the concept that a smaller vine makes better wine, Mondavi began to replant using these low vigor rootstocks. Bledsoe recalls, “A side effect of the smaller vine is that you get less yield per vine, less brush and fewer leaves. Because of this diminished capacity for growth, using the old 8’x12’ spacing with a bilateral cordon, the cordon arms were not be able to fill the spaces between vines. But, they made better wine. So we increased the vine density to make up for this difference.” Although rootstock was the starting point, Bledsoe maintains that it is merely a building block, “vigor management is the foundation, rootstock and spacing are components.”

Bledsoe adds that the next critical component is irrigation or more accurately, soil moisture management, “With increased vine density, root density is going up - effectively every square inch of the soil is mined by roots. Once the vines deplete the soil moisture supplied during the winter, they slow down on their own and run into a deficit. They experience stress earlier in the season than a wider spacing regime would. This stress turns the switch from growing vegetatively to ripening the fruit - producing sugar, phenolic and aroma compounds that make up quality. Once you reach deficit, you manage that degree of deficit by supplemental irrigation so that the vine doesn’t totally collapse or decline. A lesser vineyard in which the vine roots continue to see ample water conditions keeps growing and growing requiring more canopy management. Cover crops are used, but why plant a cover crop to use up the water - we don’t make wine out of a cover crop. We put in an extra row of vines to induce that early season water deficit.”

Some feel that by adopting traditional French plantation densities to Oakville soils, Mondavi is violating fundamental viticultural practice to establish a marketing niche. Dokoozlian comments, “The concept of how you space a vineyard is based on anticipated vine vigor. The French plant their vineyards 1mx1m because their vigor is so low; they have to plant at a high density in order to have an economic yield.” The implication is that what Mondavi is doing is artificial, because they are not basing plant density on the vigor of the site, but on a marketing concept. By using less irrigation and low vigor rootstocks, they are fine-tuning their system to make it fit their line of thinking. Dokoozlian adds, “Mondavi is putting their money where their mouth is. I totally respect them, they are doing something they think is right. I may not agree with the concept but I admire their commitment.”

Prats reacts to Mondavi’s high density approach: “I am convinced that 1m x 1m in California is not appropriate, that is my feeling. It is not right because the soil is far too rich and the vigor of the vine is too big and with such a high density there is a problem with shadow – of one row shading the neighboring row. The density has to be adjusted to the local conditions.” As for adopting French techniques he advises, “What you should understand is not the French technique but the French philosophy, which is to find the techniques which are appropriate to each individual location. The density in the Medoc is higher than it is in Pomerol for example, because the soils are different. The spacing is much wider in Chateauneuf du Pape because it is much drier than the Medoc. Each technique has been developed after the characteristics of the local area - the same has to be done in California.”

Bledsoe concludes, “Most people are not doing as tight spacing as we are, they don’t have the data nor do they believe in denser planting. We are not shying away from close plantings. We try to get about 6 tons/acre (85h/h) - and they produce reserve quality wines. If the definition of overcropping is delayed maturity, these are obviously not overcropped because our closest spaced vineyards are the first to ripen in their respective area.”

Former Etude Winemaker, Tony Soter has reservations about close spacing: “Close spacing in California almost always results in excess cropping for quality wine results; thinning becomes mandatory. This is less an issue in ‘marginal’ climates like Oregon and Northern Europe where fruitfulness is usually much lower.” Soter continues, “Close spacing is an answer to limited fruitfulness but comes with its own set of problems: (1) a higher probability of mildew and other rots (due to dense canopies limiting air circulation), (2) fruit closer to the ground rots more easily and also bakes in a heat wave and (3) requires vertical shoot positioning which crowds leaves and over-exposes fruit.”

A proponent of wider spacing is Dr. Richard Smart, international viticulture guru. To contend with a high vigor site such as Mondavi’s Oakville vineyards, he would not increase vine density to reduce vigor. He recommends reducing vine density in order to give more space to allow the vines to spread out or express their vigor. These larger vines inevitably require a more elaborate trellis system to efficiently array the foliage and grape clusters to intercept sunlight and maximize air circulation. Bledsoe disagrees, saying, “I think that is appropriate when the goal is 8-10 tons/acre and to keep the price of your wine low to be more successful on the world market. That is not what we are trying to do with our close-spaced vineyards in Napa. We are trying to make wines that compete with the top wines of the world and we do want to put limits on the expression of vigor. Because by concentrating the energy of the vine you do get a concentration of flavors.”

Generalizations are difficult without looking at a specific site. Dave Lattin, former Assistant Winemaker at Acacia Winery, now producing CL Wines, discusses the retrofitting of the Marina vineyard to wider spacing and a divided canopy. “We had vigor to contend with as a result of the high nutrient soil and vigorous rootstock (St. Georges). Carneros’ rolling hills have shallow soils (1m deep) which are full of clay on top of a clay hardpan. With Spring rains, the greater water holding capacity made the soil stay wetter, longer, compounding the high vigor.” Lattin remarked on the results, “Better flavors, better color, earlier ripening, decreased vegetal character and increased yields. It was a success and for certain sites I think it is appropriate.” But for strictly economic reasons, closer spacing is winning adherents. With the tight market for grapes, growers know that a higher vine density will produce a crop in the second or third year versus the 6-8 years for the wider spacings take to reach full production (particularly with a quadrilateral system). As for wine quality, no one is certain which one is going to make a better wine.

All grapevines need water to survive. If it doesn’t come as rainfall during the growing season as in Bordeaux and Burgundy, it must be added via irrigation as in California. The exception is old vines whose roots get their water from deep in the subsoil. Oregon receives summer rain but still needs irrigation to survive heat spells. Nonetheless, irrigation conjures up images of overcropping. Since these images do not sell wine, they are seldom discussed. Non-irrigation or dry-farming evokes images of stressed vines and low yields which are perpetuated in the wine press because they do sell wine. 

Andy Humphrey points out the trend toward irrigation in Oregon for producers who can afford it: “Everything in Oregon until recently has been dry-farmed. It’s the new people coming into Oregon - King Estate, Gary Andrus - and planting new ground on tight spacing that introduced irrigation and it’s catching on. The irrigation systems are there to establish the plant and if you need it later, it’s there.” Successful plant establishment is a big economic concern because the grafted plants, at $3 a piece, are five times the cost and considerably more fragile than their own-rooted predecessors. Humphrey adds, “We’re planting 2,000-4,000 per acre and we don’t want to lose them.” Humphrey explains the importance of irrigation aside from plant establishment, “In Oregon we get a heat spell every August or September. In 1994, it occurred just as the grapes were reaching maturity. The numbers (sugar, acid, pH) were all looking right but the flavors had not really developed. The acids were dropping, the sugars were shooting up, the fruit was starting to shrivel and everyone was panicking and picking as fast as they could. We knew the flavors weren’t there so we turned on the irrigation and gave the plants a blast of water which prevented the grapes from dehydrating and shriveling. The brix went down because we hydrated the fruit but then we turned it off and let the grapes hang on the vine for another two weeks. The flavors developed, the sugar and acid numbers were all right and it was wonderful wine.” 

The Late Justin Meyer discussed the potential drawbacks of dry farming, “On the whole West side of Napa Valley (west of Highway 29) it is very hard to find wells. As a result, many of those vineyards are dry-farmed - surviving on the 35” of rain in an average year. In a year like that, you don’t need supplemental moisture. But in a drought year like ‘76 &’77, those vines not only suffered in quality but their quantity was way down because they just ran out of moisture and shriveled up. Maybe they got half a crop of not very good quality because the grapes tended to be raisiny. In a situation like that, you wish you had water. When people say that irrigation is bad for quality, you can be sure of one thing, they don’t have irrigation.” But Meyer acknowledged that you can over-irrigate, “If the growth never slows down because you have too much water then the fruit probably won’t get very ripe. You have got this competition between vegetative growth and fruit maturity and at some point you have to bring the vegetative growth under some kind of stress by not irrigating so that vine will slow down or stop its growth and ripen the fruit.”

Lemon explains where irrigation is crucial, “Stress due to a lack of water - dehydration - is not a positive; the vine needs to get enough moisture. I work with a property on Diamond Mountain with a dry, volcanic tuffa, a soil low in nutrients and organic matter. If you let that stuff get stressed out due to lack of water, the vine will just give up on you - it will start to drop its leaves and the fruit will shrivel up. We have improved wine quality on that property by making sure that those vines do have sufficient irrigation to make sure that they don’t stress, don’t shut down and don’t ripen too quickly - to prevent the wrong kind of stress. We saw that in the ‘76 Burgundies - a drought year- the Cote de Beaune didn’t make as good wine as the Cote de Nuits which got a little more rain. We are still trying to understand it and nobody has the answer as to when and how much water deficit is appropriate.” 


The question of yield is ever-present in discussions of wine quality. And why not, excessive yields have so often been the culprit in the production of poor wine. But by focusing on yield to explain the elusive question of wine quality, two problems arise: (1) In California, higher density vineyards are making the traditional yardstick of yield– tons/acre – obsolete. And in older vineyards in Bordeaux and Burgundy non-productive or missing vines make claims of low yields misleading. (2) The focus on yield as the limiting factor in wine quality, draws attention away from other factors without which it is impossible to produce great wine. Pontallier underscores perhaps the most important factor: “The difference in quality between the first growth Chateaux and the second growth Chateaux is a fact which has been consistently recorded over the last three centuries. Between these Chateaux, yields are about the same and so is the technology of production. The only true difference is the site, the terroir, whose composition is not a mystery anymore but whose influence on the quality of the wine remains difficult to understand.” The question of quality is no easier to assess. In evaluating wine quality, what role do perceptions play - of limited production, marketing, a charismatic winemaker and numerical ratings - in what is ultimately an emotional, aesthetic and therefore subjective judgement?

A freelance writer and photojournalist, Jordan Ross has been published in Wine Spectator, Wines & Vines, Global Vintage Quarterly andPractical Winery & Vineyard. Jordan currently works for Pasternak Wine Imports in Harrison NY. 

In the early ‘80’s, Jordan was a stockbroker on Wall Street. To alleviate his frustration in a declining market, he began to develop an unquenchable interest in wine. In 1985, Jordan left Wall Street and enrolled at the University of California at Davis School of Enology & Viticulture. After completing winemaking internships at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards and Acacia Winery, he graduated in 1989 and began a successful career in the wine business.

Jordan’s academic work in Enology combined with his practical winemaking experience became the foundation for challenging the conventional wisdom of the wine world. Jordan began asking new questions on topics that had been taken for granted or not previously well covered.

Jordan traveled within France to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, the Loire, the Rhone, Argentina, Chile, Germany, Tuscany and Piedmont. During these visits he has interviewed numerous winemakers. From these interviews he has published articles on topics such as oak barrels, fining & filtration, wild yeast, the relationship between vineyard yield and wine quality, cork, and others.