Experimenting With Vine Stress
Zaca Mesa replants old vineyard with tighter spacing and own-rooted cuttings
Zaca Mesa’s estate vineyard Black Bear block is comprised of own-rooted Syrah vines from Chapoutier in the Hermitage region of the Northern Rhone Valley. Eric Mohseni, winemaker at Zaca Mesa, said the 34-year-old vines could be the oldest in the Central Coast. “It’s always been pretty amazing fruit,” he said.
In the hope of recreating some of the power of Black Bear, Mohseni said he is experimenting with planting on own-rooted cuttings from the old vineyard as well as adopting tighter spacing and low-to-ground 20” trellis wire. “We thought it would be pretty neat to try something like this,” he said.
The new planting (dubbed Mesa C) is 18 acres, of which nearly 7.5 acres are planted with “artisanal” clones on their own rootstock, and a little more than 3 acres are planted in tight rows and with low trellis wire.
Fostering vine competition
Mohseni said the idea is to see if the tight rows and low trellis wire will help younger vines yield the concentrated flavors and solid, well-integrated tannin structure that he finds in the Black Bear block. “There’s natural competition, so the vines are really going to struggle,” Mohseni said. “There’s less fruit per vine, and I think you’re going to have deeper concentration.”
Mohseni planted with a mix of clones in the rest of the vineyard to achieve vine diversity. He said he expects to bottle wine from the new vineyard after the 2015 harvest. “I believe that this block will be the pinnacle for Zaca Mesa and will produce some of the best Syrah in the Santa Ynez Valley,” he said.
The Black Bear Syrah is Zaca Mesa’s most expensive offering, listed for $60 on the winery’s website. Zaca Mesa produces 30,000 cases per year, according to WinesVinesDATA. All the wines under the Zaca Mesa label are produced from the winery’s 244 acres of estate vines in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA.
Mohseni said vineyards and especially Syrah vines have suffered in parts of California, as growers have been quick to pull out vines or graft on whatever happens to be popular. Only a few vineyards, like the Black Bear block, have the history to show what the vines can yield when they mature, he said.
The original vines are still virus-free, and Mohseni said it will be interesting to see if the vineyard site and tight 6-by-4 spacing will yield the concentrated flavors and lower alcohol levels similar to the Black Bear block.