Inside the Vineyard: growing Isosceles
Here at JUSTIN, we live by the Goldilocks Principle: not too hot, not too cold, just right! That is the mindset one must have to grow cabernet sauvignon grapes for our coveted ISOSCELES Bordeaux-inspired blend, while also adapting to the needs of its family members: cabernet franc and merlot. After 30 years of making this blend, we have a few tricks up our sleeves that we would like to share with you.
For us, cabernet sauvignon does very well with early exposure. This means early shoot thinning and leaf removal to thicken the skins during berry sizing, which reduces sunburn potential. This early exposure and long ripening period is what we hope for when heading into harvest. There are only a few blocks which have not been redeveloped—as we learn from the various soil types and microclimates, we apply this knowledge to better customize row orientations, grape varieties, clones, or rootstocks. But three heritage blocks still remain, as they continue to make the cut for our luxury blends of JUSTIFICATION or ISOSCELES. As a vine grows older, the crop yield decreases. Though quality may increase, the plant eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns. The tons harvested do not warrant the farming cost and it is more economical to replant. Blocks 10 (cabernet franc) and 11 (merlot) are consistent in their ripening characteristics and fruit flavor profile. When tasted blind after harvest alongside other barrel lots, they perform better than other, newer plantings. A grapevine can The Good Old Vines Scott Shirley, Winemaker survive for over 100 years, but attention and care are necessary. In 2013, we decided to alter farming practices to revitalize these older vines by cutting off the cordons and laying fresh, new canes. This led to better, more uniform clusters, and by investing in these storied vines, we can both sustain and enhance the estate and our wines. Cabernet sauvignon naturally has green, unripe characteristics known as methoxypyrazines (MPs). A large portion of MPs can be eliminated in the vineyard with the canopy practices described above.
Cabernet franc is the savvy sibling whom everyone loves, but who’s always getting into trouble. This particular varietal drives us year after year to take notes and adjust our practices. Whether we are dealing with grapevine viruses or a roller-coaster climate, cabernet franc is consistently good, but seems to really shine every other year.
Merlot is one of our favorites, but it’s incredibly challenging to grow well. Being a thin-skinned yet vigorous varietal, it is more susceptible to disease pressure and premature ripening if the canopy is not managed early on in the season. In order to get those velvety, plummy characteristics we all love, early leafing after fruit set is a standard practice for us. Sometimes the soft skins can ripen too quickly before the seeds and juice flavors within the berry come into balance.
Growing grapes for ISOSCELES is a challenge, but a worthwhile, rewarding experience nonetheless. We welcome you to our estate for a visit during any point in the season, as there is always something new to learn. See and taste for yourself!