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Rhys Vineyards Stakes a Claim in Anderson Valley

Kevin Harvey of Rhys Vineyards believes that the best sites for California Pinot Noir have yet to be discovered and this drives him to plant new vineyards. His experience with planting in the Santa Cruz Mountains has given him insight into the site characteristics most expressive of Pinot Noir. He is firm believer that the common factor contributing to ideal terroir for Pinot Noir vineyards is shallow soil over fractured rock combined with a cool climate. There are only a handful of sites in California that offer this ideal scenario.

Plantings of Pinot Noir in the most northwestern or deep-end of the Anderson Valley have shown impressive potential. According to Harvey, this area “meets all of our most important vineyard criteria.” He outlined these criteria recently:

    Shallow soils. This naturally aids vine balance, limits vigor and is critical for producing ripe fruit with low alcohol.

    Deeply fractured and rocky subsoil. This allows vine roots to penetrate deeply but still struggle. It is key for wines that exhibit natural complexity.

    Steep non-forested slopes. The slopes offer the perfect soil profile. Non-forested grasslands have the low fertility and soil chemistry that is optimal for wine quality.

    • Iron-rich soils. Pinot Noirs that exhibit minerality are usually found on soils with high iron content.

    Moderate clay content and limited water holding capacity. Preferably a clay content of 25% or less.

    Cool climate. A wide range of climatic conditions can produce great Pinot Noir but the coolest sites produce crunchy red fruit that is highly desirable.

The Rhys-owned Bearwallow Vineyard is named after the Bearwallow-Wolfey series of soil that dominates the property. This vineyard already has 7 acres of 9-year-old vines that are in production. These blocks have always been farmed organically. The new plantings will have a better choice of spacing, clones and rootstocks. While waiting for the new blocks to come into production, Rhys will be making Pinot Noir from the existing vines. 2008 will be the inaugural vintage for Bearwallow Vineyard.

Harvey has chosen to plant his Bearwallow Vineyard on steep slopes with grades of 20-40%. These areas are more expensive to plant and farm but he believes will make the most complex and balanced wine. There are at least 20 acres of potential upper slope vineyard with desirable characteristics. Alfalfa will be farmed organically on the lower portions of the site. Vine densities will be both 2300 (tractor farmed) and 7000 (hand farmed) vines per acre. Most of the blocks will be planted with what the French call “selection massale,” a diverse mixture of vines. Harvey believes that diversity creates wines with more complexity than more typical monoclonal plantings. A few acres will be devoted to Chardonnay as well, an unlikely suitor in this climate.

Rhys Vineyards continues to be at the vanguard of cool-climate viticulture in California. Even though they have yet to release wine from all of their existing vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the few wines that have reached consumer’s hands have been met with awe. Rhys Vineyards is a well-researched and well-funded work in progress that holds promise for astonishingly good wines that can rival any currently in production in California. Keep up to date at www.rhysvineyards.com.

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