Learn, discuss, and share lessons in Viticulture and Enology experienced from the people behind Larner Vineyard & Winery, located in Ballard Canyon AVA - Santa Barbara's Wine Country's Syrah territory.
n. A contact surface between successive rock masses or strata that represent a missing interval in the geologic record of time, produced either by an interruption in deposition or by the erosion of depositionally continuous strata followed by renewed deposition. An unconformity is a type of discontinuity where there are periods of time that are not represented.
Whether it was climate change, drought, or adverse weather patterns during the growing season, the 2015 vintage represented a discontinuity for the Larner Estate. Coming off of consecutive vintages of average crop levels, marked by significant heat, this year proved quite frustrating. The beginning of the vintage started similar to 2013 and 2014, starting with early bud-break and warmth. However things changed dramatically around inflorescences (fruit set) with humidity and occasional rainstorms. Uncharacteristic heat returned in early summer, which pushed fruit ripening in a disjointed fashion where sugars advanced faster than flavors and acid respiration. Overall far from a normal vintage, which also had its toll on the crop level, with Syrah coming in 63% down from previous harvests.
Fortunately, as the saying goes – “lower yields equates to higher quality wine”. So far this has defined the wines rendered from this year’s harvest. Unparalleled in intensity and distinct from the previous vintages, the family’s initial take is although we are frustrated not be making a lot of Syrah for the 2015 vintage, we are excited that what has been laid to rest in barrel exudes the richness and opulence of wine lots typically destined for our Reserve programs. The unconformity may be a lesser production of our Estate Syrah, allowing for the relatively small remaining quantity we have to age longer and once again exceed our expectations.
n. As a biological rhythm in the simplest definition means daily. Diurnal can refer to a cycle specific to animals and plants – those that are active during the daytime versus nocturnal. In astronomy, diurnal motion refers to the motion of our stars around the Earth. From climatology, diurnal temperature variation is the cycle of daily temperature change.
The daily temperature variation is imperative to agriculture, especially in viticulture – the science of growing grapes. The diurnal shifts experienced are specific to a region, vineyard, and vintage. This pattern can put a fingerprint on any agricultural commodity that is grown during the entire year. The entire Santa Barbara County wine region has a distinct diurnal temperature fluctuation that renders warm days to near freezing conditions at night.
The beginning of the 2015 vintage well illustrates the extremities of diurnality. Throughout the end of March and early April temperature swings have sometimes been baffling, from record heats to freezing nights. For example, just after Easter of 2015, a record high of 90˚F hit followed that evening by a 5:00 AM frost, a near 60˚F shift in just one day. To viticulturist, this diurnal temperature change ensures that vines grow during the day and sleep at night; scientifically this translates to what is commonly called the “light” and “dark” reactions.
Photosynthesis, the engine behind making plants green and producing sugar upon consumption of CO2 and sunlight, is hence known as the “light” reaction. Acid respiration, the process of wine grapes slowly becoming less acidic, via various paths like glycolysis and the Krebs cycle, is more temperature dependent and thus can occur independent of light – hence we call it the “dark” reaction. The temperature influence regulates a wine grape’s acidity, the cycle shuts down in temperatures below 55˚F thus retaining more natural acidity ultimately in the wine.
Given mildly hot days during our peak part of the growing season coupled with cold nights from the diurnal temperature change, vines will produce wines that have terrific phenological ripeness with high acidity, both key components to make wines that are truly age worthy. Coupled with drought cycles, vintages like 2015 offer promise for an estate vineyard to render wines with complexity and acidity unparalleled. Fortunately the almost patented diurnal temperature shift of the Ballard Canyon American Viticultural Area (AVA), the home of the Larner Vineyard, ensures that every vintage is defined
n. Among the most beautiful of all Protozoa, they produce intricate mineral skeletons often of perfect geometric form and symmetry. Dating back to the Cambrian Period (500 million years ago) their abundance in many rocks, their long geologic history, and their diversity through time make them important sources of information on the geologic age and structure of many deposits.
The Radiolarian’s presence is an integral part of the geologic calendar, stamping time with its formation and genesis. This is akin to any given wine, an agricultural snapshot of a given vintage, its origins rooted to the territory and Mother Nature. The 2014 vintage proved to be a challenging year as the third in a row defined by drought, but the vines were better prepared and the consistent heat throughout produced grapes that ripened exquisitely, even if 30 days earlier than usual.
The key to making distinct quality wine is what lies beneath, the construction and content of the soil. Larner Vineyard’s bedrock includes chert (a deep marine sedimentary rock) comprised of radiolarian. This unique soil aspect is part of the foundation of our territory driven wines. Like the Radiolaria, our estate produces intricate wines with symmetry and perfect geometry on the palate. The soil ensures that the wines are concentrated and complex, coupled with the drier vintage that promoted full phenological ripeness.
Given this unusually dry vintage, bolstered with uncharacteristic consistent heat, and an estate vineyard with a complex and low vigor soil base the end result is a focused production from a vintage that is unparalleled and distinct. The wines of 2014 will surpass the longevity of classic vintages like 2009 and 2010, render more mouth feel than vintages like 2011 and 2012, and be better balanced than wines from the other significant drought year, 2013. But that is not to say that you will enjoy one more than the other, they are all pages of our own geologic calendar.
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