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July 9, 2007

IT"S REAL: A WOLF IN THE VINEYARD


Vineyard manager Michael Wolf perches on a pile of stones he and his men pulled from the soil to prepare Quixote's new two-acre hillside Petite Syrah vineyard.
Photo by John McJunkin

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Thirty years ago when Napa Valley underwent its first viticulture renaissance, local farmers could read land, plants and weather. City slickers arriving in the wine country to pursue their vinous dreams marveled at the mystical powers of these men and women and eagerly learned everything they were willing to teach. Then, for nearly two decades, new technology and scientific solutions incrementally eclipsed the relationship between people and vines.

Fortunately, by the time we got around to launching Quixote Winery and replanting Stags Leap Ranch Vineyard in 1991, many of us had learned that what we’d come to call “conventional farming” was failing us. We were finding our way back. Vineyard Manager Michael Wolf is the quintessence of the enlightened farming that comes out of this movement. Call it Slow Food, sustainable, organic or natural, it’s a philosophy extolled by our muse Friedensreich Hundertwasser and Michael Wolf.

Michael grew up just outside New York City. In 1971 he earned a B.A. in history at Alfred University in upstate New York then headed straight for California and has farmed one way or another from Mendocino to Napa Valley ever since. As one might expect of a guy drawn “back to the earth” in the early ‘70s, he has an aversion to templates. He doesn’t like regimented viticulture, highly stylized winemaking and, surprisingly enough, he has no interest in “unlimited budgets.”

Michael gets excited about creating purely individualized vineyards that express the land and the winemaking style of the vintner. He also likes the satisfaction of knowing the wine is a good value.

Contrary to the fashion of the day, he’s not inclined to follow Bordeaux planting models and pushes to harvest fruit while it still tastes like the vineyard and before sugar levels soar.

“What my men and I do together is difficult,” explains Michael. “Each of us has to think about every individual vineyard we farm. This is not manufacturing. Each vineyard and plant is different. The same man returns to the same vineyard block again and again throughout the year. I’m big on what is real. We like learning and being challenged and we like the respect our approach elicits from vintners.”

With no degree in viticulture, Michael learned to farm by farming. He was in the rows with farmworkers for enough years to slide back and forth between Spanish and English with ease. He came to appreciate the difference between a vineyard that looks good from the highway and one that can stand up to minute evaluation. He learned to listen to the vineyard and appreciate the life in the soil.

At Quixote’s Stags Leap Ranch, he was surprised to find 14 distinctly different blocks within 27 acres. “This vineyard produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah with a generousness to them. There’s more red fruit character and an absence of massive tannins. I’ve actually wondered if the cabernet picks up softness from its proximity to the petite. It’s a unique wine with real backbone and structure. This vineyard is its own little world, geographically and geologically.”

---Pamela Hunter

Editor’s Note: For additional information contact Pam Hunter- 707-258-1699 x 15 or Pamela@studio-707.com
[Posted:7/9/2007]

Posted by Pamela at July 9, 2007 10:05 AM| Share on Facebook |

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