Watching the Roussanne move across the sorting table, one get’s a sense of why this variety is as earthy, rich, and stone fruity in aroma and flavor as it is. Clusters display both green and reddish berries in varying degrees, as evidenced in this photo by Marissa Winchester. Stephan comments that popularly, Roussanne derives from roux, meaning “russet”, or “reddish” in French. Rich, honeyed, pear and stone fruit with an almost spicy finish are detected when tasting the fresh fruit.
A variety prone to highly irregular yields, this year’s Roussanne crop was particularly small. So are clusters, which are also very tight, berries being smaller than normal. The resulting wine will be very rich, with greater intensity and specificity than in many years. 0.8 ton per acre yields this year were due to the warm weather we experienced in part, but also to a man made “trap”, if you will, that caught us up in the end! Let me explain.
At plantation in 2000, Stephan opted to encircle the root systems of the new Roussanne plantings with a wire cage, designed specifically to foil the gophers in the vineyard from devouring the tender young vines. Gophers are among the most notorious of pests in the vineyards, and this seemed a sound way to combat them….no poison, no drownings, clean and humane. The cages did their jobs as concerns keeping out the gophers, but created an unforseen complication. It turns out that the root system of the vines began to grow into a tight circle inside the cage, instead of growing right through the openings in the mesh. The result was a Roussanne block that has always produced very low yields, and vines that are displaying signs of stunted growth at 13 years. Following this harvest, the plan is to replant the block, sans cages! Join me in saying “Au Revoir, Bonsai Roussanne!”