Growing & Winemaking

 

Viginie Bourgue

March 2009
 
by Laurie Daniel
 
 
Virginie Bourgue
 
Virginie Bourgue

Virginie Bourgue's business card for Cadaretta Wines in the Walla Walla Valley AVA reads "winemaker,'' but she also has a strong background in viticulture. A native of France, she earned her bachelor's degree in viticulture in Avignon, then a master's in enology from the University of Sciences in Reims. She worked at a number of viticulture and winemaking jobs in France, mostly in the Champagné region, before moving to Washington state in 2002 for an internship at Chateau Ste. Michelle.

When Rick Middleton, whose family is in the timber business in the Northwest and also owns Red Cedar Vineyard and Clayhouse wines in Paso Robles, Calif., decided to establish a vineyard for Cadaretta in the Oregon portion of the Walla Walla appellation, he hired Bourgue as head winemaker and viticulturist. The first releases were a Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon blend and a Syrah, both made from purchased grapes.

In 2008 they planted the first 22 acres of a 232-acre vineyard. To help guide their planting decisions, Middleton and Bourgue relied on technology such as electrical conductivity mapping and extensive soil analysis.

Wines & Vines: You started your vineyard project with electrical conductivity mapping. Could you describe the process and what it found?

Virginie Bourgue: The property that the Middleton family bought in 2005 always had been part of a dry-farmed wheat farm. It's a 232-acre piece between elevations of 975 and 1,400 feet, 1.5 miles west of Milton-Freewater, Ore., in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

The property showed a lot of diversity, including elevation, exposure and topsoil. According to written descriptions of the area, the varied elevations indicated numerous soil types. The way the ground had been farmed indicated that we might have variation between the surface and the sub-surface. We knew we wanted to irrigate the property, but we also knew that the only water it had received historically was rainfall, meaning that we had to choose our irrigation system based on what would best suit this "virgin" soil. We also had to know about the makeup of the soil to determine how to work it. Our long-term goal is to be as eco-friendly as we can, knowing that superb wine quality is what we are ultimately striving for.

We started by looking at the broad picture so we could recognize variations. The electro-conductivity mapping, coupled with GPS, fit our needs.

We used the Veris 3100 to measure soil conductivity. It's a soil-mapping system that acquires soil electrical conductivity (EC) data from two soil depths--0-to-1-foot and 0-to-3-feet. The top layer typically shows the effects of management inputs, such as tillage and soil movement, while the deeper layer more closely identifies natural patterns of soil variability. It's coupled with a Trimble Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver that maps soil properties.

The Veris 3100 is pulled behind a four-wheel-drive pickup. We covered 232 acres of property and broke them down into three smaller blocks: bottom (88 acres), middle (87 acres) and top (57 acres) for a more accurate differentiation.

We also took random soil samples from the three blocks' surface and sub-surface layers. We sent them to a certified soil-testing laboratory for textural analysis and chemical analysis, including soil acidity (pH), cation exchange capacity (CEC), organic matter, ammonium, nitrate, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, sodium, boron, zinc and copper. A couple of weeks later, we received the results, which were plotted onto a map showing soil texture analysis and chemistry analysis from the two depths.

We now have maps showing the different management zones within the 232 acres (up to seven management zones in each of the three fields). But we didn't really know how to define clearly each management zone. The exercise satisfied our goal of gathering a substantial amount of data, but we needed to go further, so we decided to dig pits in areas chosen according to the EC maps in order to have a better understanding of what was in the ground.

W&V: You dug 10 pits. What did you find?

Bourgue: Ten pits, approximately 6 feet deep, were dug with a backhoe so that the soil profiles could be evaluated with regard to their implications for viticulture. We chose the pit locations based on areas of high, low and intermediate electro-conductivity data within each of the three blocks (bottom, middle and top).

On the bottom of the vineyard, we found similar soils. They were all Walla Walla silt loams of relatively consistent texture. These soils are below 1,200 feet of elevation. They are wind-deposited silt-loam (loess) that overlies unconsolidated sand and silt deposited by the Pleistocene Missoula floods. They are consistent and deep, and contain nothing that would inhibit the penetration of roots or water.

In the middle, there was no evidence of Missoula flood material, and a broad range of soil depth. The prevailing southwesterly winds have stripped silt and fine sand from southwest-facing slopes and deposited these materials on northeast-facing slopes. We encountered some deep soils where we found bedrock, some soil depth ranging from 2 to 6 feet deep with carbonate deposition, and some horizons with almost no soil above the bedrock.

At the top, all the pits showed highly fractured and weathered basalt bedrock at a depth of at least 3 feet. In all of the pits, a thick layer of calcium carbonate separated the basalt bedrock from overlying silt-loam soils.

Ultimately, the soils in the middle and top blocks will require ripping to increase drainage, and a customized irrigation design to match the soil depth variation.

W&V: How did you deci de on your row orientation?

Bourgue: The topography, the wind direction and the different varieties chosen determined our choice. For most of the late-ripening reds, rows are oriented south-north; for the early-ripening reds and whites, they are northeast-southwest.

W&V: What sort of trellising are you using?

Bourgue: We hired a viticulture adviser from Bordeaux, and we are still working on deciding on trellising. There are still a few things that we need to investigate for the long term.

W&V: Where do you go from here with planting the remainder of the vineyard?

Bourgue: In the near future, we will plant the bottom block, since it's a more consistent piece of ground. We will still employ the same attention to detail in choosing the vine material, in designing the irrigation system and in laying out the blocks.

I try to keep an open mind so I can embrace what every day brings. I have to be objective enough to know that something new and useful might come from a new technology, the weather or the people I work with. The Middleton family has built upon their agricultural background to establish a history in the viticulture business, which is a great foundation.

I come from a grapegrowing family, so we all have roots in the ground, and we believe in looking to the future. We want to position ourselves as having respect for tradition, as well as an open-minded approach to the future--kind of a combination of science and soul.

Clone choices for Cadaretta Wines' vineyard
 

 
A portion of Cadaretta's vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley AVA was planted last year with 22 ENTAV clones, encompassing 12 grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Two of the clones, according to Virginie Bourgue, Cadaretta's winemaker and viticulturist, are new in the United States.

Bourgue says she decided to go with ENTAV clones because of the data available about them. "You know you'll have homogenous material," she says. Sunridge Nurseries in Bakersfield, Calif., supplied the vines.

Adapting to Drought
 
A vineyard crew begins planting Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in July 2008.
 
The two new clones are Petit Verdot 1058 and Counoise 508. Bourgue found the Petit Verdot last year at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento. ENTAV representatives had brought wine made from the clone, Bourgue says, and she liked the phenolic and aromatic profile. As for Counoise, she says that 508 was the only ENTAV clone of that variety available.

Based on what she's learned about the site, she thinks the clones she's selected will be "a pretty good match." But she's taking a very methodical, analytical approach.

"We consider these first 22 the 'mother block' that we will monitor into the future on an experimental level," Bourgue says. "In three years we will start making wine from each block separately, with the goal of keeping the best varietals and clone for the top block. We are taking the slow approach because we want to do it right, and also because the property deserves to have it done right. It is such a beautiful vineyard."

L.D.



A resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Laurie Daniel has been a journalist for more than 25 years. Although she grew up in wine-deprived surroundings in the Midwest, she quickly developed an interest in wine after moving to California. She has been writing about wine for publications for nearly 15 years and has been a Wines & Vines contributor since 2006. To comment on this article, e-mail edit@winesandvines.com

 
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