Grafting in Pence Ranch Vineyard: Gamay & Chardonnay

In the Vineyard: to Graft or Not to Graft?

Written by Blair Pence

‘Tis the question that the team at Pence Ranch has been asking ourselves over the last several months. What do we wish we had a little more of in the ground? What small tweaks in the vineyard could we do that would add value to our program? What else do we think our clay-based site is best suited for?

With only 6 acres of Chardonnay, and yet 30 acres of Pinot Noir, we decided that more Chardonnay was a natural choice because we are so enamored with the style of wine that our region produces. In our 2013 whites, we are already seeing a beautiful, fresh lemon-citrus, racy and nervy style of wine develop. When put into the hands of a winemaker like Sashi Moorman, who understands how to coax all the flavors from the grape while also preserving restraint, Chardonnays are magical and have tons of energy. These grafted 3 acres are a selection massale of various cuttings including Wente, Clone 4, 76, 96 and 548. While these 3 acres are much needed, this will certainly not be our last plantings of this varietal.

We have also decided to graft one acre of Pinot Noir to Gamay. Yes, Gamay, as in the grape that heralds from Beaujolais in France. Consistently one of the most unsung heroes of the red vinous world, Gamay makes very aromatic, pretty, soulful and highly drinkable wines. With excellent provenance coming from the original US plantings of Gamay at Seven Springs Vineyard in Oregon, our cuttings should yield a healthy crop and one that will work very well into our estate program.

The good news about these small changes is that with successful grafts (see photos below) happening now in the field, we should be able to see one ton or more of fruit this year! We cannot wait for the results!!

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Pence Ranch History: Why Plant Grapevines Here?

Written by Blair Pence – 

Pence Ranch & Winery - Santa Barbara wine countryLet’s start at the beginning…..why Santa Barbara county, and why did I buy this particular ranch for vineyard planting?

This is actually my fifth ranch in Santa Barbara County. The previous four properties were strictly for the sheer beauty and pastoral nature of old California. And for raising Cutting Horses, a special type of horse for cattle that is controlled without the use of reins. Cutting horses are most probably my first love, but more about that later…

Pence Ranch & Winery - Santa Barbara wine countryWhat really attracted me to this site for its vineyard potential was the incredible range of slopes, undulations, aspects and orientations to the property. It is situated on a higher plateau than the valley floor and is therefore held together by thick clay and calcareous rock. Because the ranch is also 2 miles long, the diversity of terroir is easily evident.  The south half is almost entirely exposed to the cold, ocean winds that consistently blow in from the Pacific with west, south, north and east facings.  The north half is mountainous, oak-studded and far more wind-protected facing the southeast and east.

Pence Ranch & Winery - Santa Barbara wine countryIt is this variety in temperature, elevation and sun orientation where I knew immediately that I could grow great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (so this makes Burgundian varietals my second love) on the south half. Read more about my love/obsession for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir here. I also realized the ranch’s potential for producing beautiful Syrah (on the north half) akin to what you might see from the Northern Rhône in France.

Looking at Pence Ranch, I fell in love with its land, its contours and its great complexity in topography and soil. And I know we can make delicious Chardonnays, profound Pinot Noirs and aromatically, flavorful Syrahs.