Paso Robles: East vs. West
We immediately favored the west side of Paso Robles for its sloping hills and authentic quality terroir. Another factor for this decision was the proximity of the Templeton Gap, a breach in the Coastal Range through which cool breezes blow continuously. The area is characterized by early fog in the morning, warm clear days, and nighttime temperatures that can drop by approximately 40 degrees.
The site, which was not planted, was selected after an extensive study of the area that matched with our long experience in the wine industry. The property covers a total of 127 acres and has many hills of various elevations, complex soils, and excellent drainage.
The importance of the terroir is fundamental to obtaining a high quality wine. The vineyard is planted on the western side of the Paso Robles hills, providing maximum daylight exposure.
Under the thin layer of top soil, which is barely 10 inches thick at the top of the hills and 24 inches at the bottom, there are several layers of limestone, rock-shell, traces of clay, metal, and quartz. This mosaic of soil brings complexity to the fruit. The rock shell / clay combination acts like a sponge, storing water during the rainy season, and redistributing it back to the roots in the dry season. This insures a constant feeding for the vines, giving them a more balanced water source, as opposed to simple irrigation. This also helps to keep the soil moist longer, allowing for a later harvest.
Adopting the notion of terroir means to reject the more fertile soil in favor of leaner ground. This preserves the authenticity of the wine, providing a good balance between alcohol and acidity, thereby enhancing finesse and elegance.
The Cal Poly Earth & Soil Sciences Soil Survey Team recently did an in depth soil analysis at L'Aventure. To look at a breakdown of their findings click here.
The choice of rootstock was made to take full advantage of the terroir. Only those with a long, slow maturation, and a deep root system were selected.
For the same reason, planting was done with a very high density of more than 2000 plants per acre.
The irrigation system was designed specifically with the ability to irrigate each row separately. This allows an optimum balance between the amount of water, the sun exposure, and the soil.
The choice of location for each varietal, the irrigation option, the terroir, and the high density emphasizes more complexity and concentration in the fruit. Because of the Paso Robles location, we are convinced that blending is absolutely essential in order to obtain the right balance between tannins, alcohol and acidity, without any one varietal overpowering the others. This insures a superb wine with great originality.
As of 1999, the varietals planted are: Syrah 37%, Cabernet Sauvignon 50%, Petit Verdot 13%. There are also small parcels of Grenache and Chardonnay. With the next tranche of plantation in 2000 and beyond, the percentages will be modified slightly: Syrah 36%, Cabernet Sauvignon 36%, Petit Verdot 9%, Mourvèdre 9%, plus some 3 acres of Roussanne and Viognier.
The foliage is a very important element. It is the "maturity factory" of the vine. This explains why the volume of foliage is so large: more than 4 feet, allowing a huge amount of leaf-growth.
The trellis system is vertical. The foliage is brought back up between the wires allowing significant sun exposure and greater maturity of the polyphenol (Tanin / Antocyan). This provides a better balance of the sugar/phenolic acid combination at harvest.
The pruning is the classic "Guillot Double" with a very low double cordon or low classic double cordon. The rows are disked and chiseled regularly to help the water penetrate and reach the deeper soil. This forces the root system to dig deeper and take advantage of the terroir.
The irrigation is not used systematically, but only when needed, mostly during flowering and véraison.
The time of harvest is based not only on the usual sugar level criteria, but also when the phenolic maturation is acceptable.
The yield harvested is limited to 2 tons maximum per acre to ensure premium fruit with an optimum concentration, tanin maturity and balance.