Welcome to the Broken Earth blog page.
We are almost at the one month mark since the first pick of harvest 2017, and it has been a compelling ride thus far! We have a great crew working in the cellar, which includes our two interns, Bailey and Michael, who came all the way from West Virginia and Michigan to make wine here in Paso Robles.
With a very rainy winter and spring (many thanks, mother nature) and a rather average growing-season temperature, harvest was delayed for about a week. The first fruit brought in was Verdelho, picked on August 29th. The first day of harvest is always filled with anticipation and excitement. An early morning sunrise, the first roar on the press, and the traditional first sip of juice off the press allows everyone to cheerfully reflect on what it means to make wine. Unfortunately, this moment is fleeting and the reality of the long road ahead sets in.
The second week of harvest brought with it one of the most extreme heat spikes the Paso Robles area has ever seen this time of year. This brought up the sugar levels of the grapes rather dramatically and created a picking frenzy for the whites. As of September 10th, all the white grapes had been picked and pressed. As the second week of harvest came to an end, Vermentino, Albariño, Grenache Blanc, and various other white varietals had been brought in, along with Merlot and Tempranillo.
Grenache Blanc was one of the last whites picked and our winemaker Chris had something special in mind for the Tempranillo. For the first time at Broken Earth Winery, Chris planned to ferment the Tempranillo in macro bins instead of in a tank. Macro bins are square plastic bins that can hold up to one ton of weight; they are also used and known as picking bins. Although more labor intensive, this form of fermentation allows for a more concentrated and complex wine. Punch downs of the grapes are then done three times a day to stimulate fermentation and extract color from the skins. Keep an eye out for this special release wine in the coming years!
Our cellar is now filled with the luscious scent of fermentation; think fresh rain on a spring day. And since the heat spike, the weather pendulum has swung the other way, with daily temperatures cooler than normal. This is quite a relief for our grapes, winemaker, and cellar crew. Although the later ripening fruit is currently hanging on the vine, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the cellar, including pump overs, pressing juice off the skins of the red fruit, and measuring the progress of fermentation.
Harvest has hit a lull, but it will not last for long. We are expecting more fruit this last week of September. See you on the crush pad!
We have been focusing on the practice of sustainability at both our winery and estate vineyard quite intently the past couple years and want to share one of the projects that has been implemented, SWEEP (State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program). On a recent trip to our estate vineyard, our Designer and Brand Coordinator Kate Hauber and I met up with Vineyard Manager Oliver Matthews, to discuss the updates Broken Earth Winery has made by implementing SWEEP, which is a grant distributed by the California state government.
First off, the SWEEP grant program was created by the California Department of Food and Agriculture to provide financial incentive for California agriculture operations to administer more sustainable agriculture practices. The grant requires investing in updated irrigation systems, which reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) and conserves water, tackling two environmental issues as once. The application process is very competitive and needs to include a detailed plan on how the grant will be spent to better the overall environment. We were fortunate enough to be awarded the grant for both 2015 and 2017, allowing for modern updates to the vineyard, which was originally developed in 1973.
While touring the vineyard, Oliver explained how the 2015 grant was used and what was planned for 2017. Our first stop focused on the newly installed weather stations and soil probes to track soil moisture, mildew percentage, and temperature. These two separate mechanisms work hand-in-hand via satellite.
There were three soil probes installed throughout the vineyard. The probes, which act as an irrigation monitoring system, go five feet into the ground, containing sensors at every six-inch point along the way. Data collected from the probe can then be used to better understand the optimal time to water. According to Oliver, “the sensors allow us to track irrigation in a more efficient manner and get our thumb down on what the vines really need”, thus reducing excessive use of water and reduced labor costs.
With help from the weather stations, water is also conserved during the first phases of bud break, one of the most suspenseful times during the growing season. The biggest threat during this time is frost, therefore much of the vineyard is equipped with sprinklers that need to be turned on when temperatures dip below freezing. There are two weather stations throughout our 2,500 acre property, with more coming online soon. Before these were installed, we were dependent on other stations located close to the property, which meant the temperature data was not as accurate. This led to potential overuse of water, but with precise temperature data from the vineyard, we can better know when to best use the frost protection system, which again ultimately conserves water and energy. Oliver also appreciates the more accurate temperature readings because it may save him a few early 3a.m. trips out to the vineyard.
A lesser-known threat to vines during the growing season is powdery mildew. To better understand how to manage this fungus, the weather stations also have a mildew calculator that measures moisture in the air as well as high and low pressure systems. With higher air moisture and lower pressure, the chance of powdery mildew growing on the vine’s leaves is much higher, therefore a fungicide may need to be sprayed. Precise data readings allows us to better understand when spraying is needed and reduces the number of sprays overall. Spraying against powdery mildew accurately and less often reduces tractor passes, which reduces fuel usage and allows for less soil compaction. Soil compaction reduces pore spacing in the soil, leading to less water absorption, a slow down of aeration, and can stunt the growth of roots. These are just a few reasons as to how using weather stations and soil probes can reduce water usage and GHG.
Since we were also fortunate enough to earn a grant for 2017, our next stop at the vineyard took us to a west facing hill that will be the future home of solar panels. The goal of this project is to make our irrigation system completely energy independent. With hundreds of acres planted over the past year, our irrigation system needs more clean power to run efficiently which is why this project integrates with our sustainability goals. This project will begin over the summer and we hope to have the panels functioning by early next year.
The inspiration behind the SWEEP grant was to get California through the drought and introduce new farming technologies to farmers across the state. For Broken Earth Winery, this grant has given us the opportunity to implement many new technologies for a greater purpose. In conjunction with the SWEEP grant, we hope to continue our mission of sustainability for the betterment of both our local and global environment, as well as our customers, so we can all enjoy sustainably grown wine.
Photo Credit: Kate Hauber
We have recently renewed the tradition of holding monthly staff wine tastings here at Broken Earth Winey. This gives us the opportunity to come together, learn about wine, and of course have a little fun.
This past week we started anew by blind tasting rosés from around the world. Rosés traditionally contain the freshest juice from the most current vintage. Therefore, this tasting gave us a hint of what the 2016 vintage was like from a global perspective.
The tasting was hosted by our Lab Manager Melanie, who chose twelve wines to pour, breaking them down into four themed flights that covered regions from the southern hemisphere, Spain, France, and Paso Robles. Each wine showed its own unique personality, differing by location and choice of production process.
The color range on the rosés covered every shade of pink to peach, a collection of brilliant hues that would make Barbie envious. The old world wines leaned more toward ballet slipper pink, where as the new world sections tended to have deeper peach and bubble gum tones. Every rosé was refreshing in its own way, many of them exhibiting common characteristics such as strawberries, watermelon, and minerality. Some uncommon notes picked up in a few were mustard seed and yellow bell pepper. All these observations compared together by everyone is what makes tasting so fun and educational.
Everyone in attendance had a wine they enjoyed most, but the Spanish flight came out as the crowd favorite.
We are happy to report that all the rosés delivered and definitely put us in a summertime mood. And, to complete the evening, nature gave us a rosé sunset to enjoy. #yeswayrosé
Please see below for a reference of the wines that were tasted in the order they were poured.
2016 Waterkloof Circumstance "Cape Coral" Mourvèdre Rosé Stellenbosch
2016 Susana Balbo “Signature” Malbec Rosé Mendoza
2016 Twr (Te Whare Ra) Pinot Noir Rosé Marlborough
2015 S.C. Pannell "Arido" Rosé Adelaide Hills
2016 Ostatu Rosado Rioja
2016 Borsao Rosé
2016 Domaines Ott "By.Ott" Côtes De Provence Rosé
2016 Chateau De Campuget '1753' Rosé Costeries De Nimes
2016 Cote Des Roses Rosé
2016 Conundrum Rosé
2016 Broken Earth Winery Grenache Rosé
2016 Halter Reanch Rosé
Photo Credit: Kate Hauber and Annie Bowsky
We have experienced a truly amazing winter here in Paso Robles. There has been enough rain to get most of the state out of the drought and we have received a total of 12.2 inches of rain at our estate vineyard.
This bounty of rain has led to shades of green wherever you look. The vineyard is fresh with a thick cover crop, wild grasses, and of course bud break – the time of year we get a hint of what the coming harvest will look like.
On a recent trek through the estate, we were able to see for ourselves where bud break had already occurred and which varietals were still holding out. The Chardonnay blocks are the furthest along, followed by the Syrah and Albariño. The Cabernet blocks have sprouted a few buds, but are a little further behind. We also have many new plantings that are still in grow-tubes. Although they will bud this year, we will not be using the fruit for at least two to three more years.
When asked about the upcoming growing season, winemaker Chris Camron said, “I am excited about the consistency of bud break throughout the vineyard and I look forward to seeing what this vintage has to give”. The idea that every vintage is different is what keeps the wine making process exciting.
We invite you to join us on the journey of this growing season by following our blog or connecting with us on social media.
Photo Credit: Kate Hauber and Annie Bowsky
Yesterday we had the opportunity to bring together Winemaker Chris Camron, as well as members of both our vineyard and production teams to taste the upcoming 2016 vintage.
This vintage was known for the El Niño that didn’t quite happen, although we still received more rain at the vineyard than we had the past few drought years. Beyond that, the vintage was pretty normal with the fluid temperature highs and lows of the Paso Robles growing season.
To start, the group tasted through the whites, which included Albariño, Vermentino, and Verdelho, just to name a few. Many of which are soon to be bottled and released for your summer enjoyment. There were also two separate Chardonnays that will spend a little more time in French oak before bottling.
Further down the line were the varying varieties of reds, separated out based on the blocks they were picked from. Unlike the whites, the reds are still in their infancy and will be spending more time in oak before being blended or featured as a single varietal.
The true star of the tasting was the 2016 Grenache Rosé! This wine is a shade of pastel peach with the scent of wild strawberries. And the best news is that it’s already in bottle and will be available soon, perfect for the warming spring weather.
We could not be more excited about this vintage and look forward to sharing these wines with you.
Photo Credit: Kate Hauber
Recent years have exhibited weather patterns that resulted in severe stress in our vineyard. 2013 was officially the driest year in recorded history and then 2014 became the warmest year in recorded history. This double ‘whammy’ will have long term effects on grape yields, vine vigour and general vine health.
We took an aggressive approach to our soil amelioration program this year and, along with 7.5” of very timely rainfall, have seen some excellent results.
The process involved cultivation of every other row. The reason for this is to maintain solid ground in opposing rows to allow equipment access for spraying etc. Additionally, the cultivation ‘prunes’ the vines’ surface roots to encourage more feeder root growth and it would be potentially distressing to do this on both sides of the vine. The rows are single tyne deep-ripped about 12” from the vine trunks, followed by a patented floating plate beneath the soil that lifts sections of soil vertically to ensure greater penetration of air, moisture and nutrients.
We applied 1800 tons of high grade compost across the 520 acres of vines.
To see how well it works compare these two photos of me standing in the mid-rows. The difference in the mid-row crop is remarkable. Mid row crops are used to provide organic bulk back to the soil and raise the available free nitrogen levels. The crops are eventually mowed and disked into the soil.
WITHOUT SOIL AMELIORATON
WITH SOIL AMELIORATON
In more ways than one, we are focused more and more on the environment. This photo shows the delivery of our second new tractor that replaces older, higher emission units. In addition, we are also replacing our two major well pump engines with cleaner, more fuel-efficient machines. All contributing to decreasing our carbon foot print dramatically.
This current initiative alone represents an investment of more than $400,000 and it emphasizes our commitment to the environment.
2015 also sees an aggressive approach to soil amelioration and our determination to give back to the earth. We have just completed a major program that saw the application of 1,800 tons of compost following a unique deep ripping process. Every second row is deep ripped near the vine’s surface roots and a floating plate lifts and breaks the sheets of soil ripped. This allows valuable intake of air and a more direct target for compost application.
The amazing results of this program can easily been seen in this second photo. This is a shot of our mid-row crops and it echoes the health of the soil. Once going to seed, which is the time the crop is at its peak with Nitrogen, the crop will be cut and disked into the soil, providing valuable free Nitrogen and organic ‘bulk’.
We have also progressed with our new plantings and we have decided to experiment with different varieties. In addition to the ‘staples’ of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, we are adding Cabernet Franc, extending our Petit Verdot plantings, as well as more Tempranillo. What is also exciting is the addition of Fiano, Torrontes and Nero d’Avola. While these are smaller plantings, they will add to the array of exclusive parcels we produced primarily for you, our wine club members.