Halter Ranch Special Projects Division


Block 33 Merlot

Looking down the rows in Block 33 Merlot


As we alluded to on our facebook page earlier this week, new and exciting special projects are underfoot in the vineyard.   The tasting room and winery staff have split into three teams (each headed by a member of the winery staff) and each team has been assigned a few rows from three different portions of the vineyard (Team A Block 21 Cabernet Sauvignon lead by Darren, Team B Block 3 Malbec lead by Molly, Team C Block 33 Merlot lead by Oscar).  Each team will take their rows through the winemaking process from shoot thinning, through fermentation, and finally to blending.  All squads will have access to assistance and advice from viticulturist Lucas Pope, winemaker Kevin Sass, and vineyard foreman Eusebio Rico, but the idea is that final decisions and methods will fall upon the squad itself to enact. 


Discussing Frost

Kevin Coaching


This program offers the exciting opportunity to experience from start to finish, the various aspects of a process we talk about, or write about, or perform bits and pieces of year round while engaging in a little friendly (and inevitable) competition among coworkers. I (Lindsey B) am on Oscar’s squad (Team C) so most of the updates will be from the perspective of our efforts in Block 33 Merlot with occasional glimpses of the other teams’ progress (if they’ll let me anywhere near them with my prying eyes and camera and questions).


Flowers and Clusters

A little flowering in the bottom left corner


We began by heading out to take a look at Merlot Block 33 with Kevin for some recommendations and strategy.  Our first task in the vineyard will be to thin new growth back to the vine shoots and clusters we want to keep.  By removing shoots and clusters that are not ideally placed, we allow the vines to focus their energy on lengthening the most ideal shoots and ripening the very best grapes. Right now the vineyard is in transition.  Warm weather is  encouraging the young, green clusters to wake up and begin flowering.  This is a very delicate time for the vines because the degree of success during flowering and fruit set will determine yield and fruit quality down the road.  So while flowering is underway, we generally avoid shoot thinning to allow nature the space to perform its magic.  That said, our team will be making our way through Merlot 33 and removing any unwanted growth below the main cordon (cordon: horizontal growth of the main vine) as this will not affect the flowering clusters and shoots above.  We refer to fresh growth on the trunk of the vine below the main cordon as a sucker given that any shoots down here effectively suck some of the vine’s energy and nutrients away from the upper growth we want to focus on.  Suckering is the act of removing this growth to refocus the vines’ energy.  Over the next week or two, as our block finishes the process of flowering, we will be occupying ourselves a little each day removing (getting those!) suckers.


A Sucker

A sucker! (We’ll get it)


The process of shoot thinning in our block is complicated by the fact that a large portion of 33 Merlot was hit by late April frost.  This bit back the primary buds we were seeking to keep and caused the vines to begin budding in odd places.  It also  created a separation in maturity between those first buds that survived, and the new buds that sprung out to replace the frost bitten ones.  The result can be seen in the photo below.  Ideally we would see consistent growth throughout the block, but as the photo illustrates, some shoots are much larger and farther along than others.  As the vines make their way through summer and the berries begin to mature, it will be up to us to decide how much fruit to keep and how much to drop based on the fact that some clusters will ripen at a faster rate.


Our Portion of Block 33

Frost effects shown in variation of growth.


Merlot is very enthusiastic in terms of producing fruit.  Both berries and clusters have a tendency to be large.  So once flowering is complete and we begin shoot thinning we will also be embarking on the various stages of fruit selection, and given Merlot’s leaning, the process will be very important to insure our clusters don’t compete for space and nutrients too much.  It is humbling to note how much each decision in regard to the vines will affect the wine that results.  Each little shoot we remove, each wing we clip off of a cluster, and each cluster we drop on the way to harvest will have an effect on how much fruit there is to ripen, how much energy the vine will be able to provide that fruit, and in the end, how concentrated and balanced the wine will be.


Three Quarters of the Team

Team C: Jordan, Oscar, Cathy, and Lindsey B (taking the photo)


For context our little crew got to crack open a barrel and try a taste of 2012 Merlot from Block 33.  Like all the wine we’ve tasted from last vintage, the nose is fruit forward and bright.  On the palate we found noticeable structure and concentration, a plus for Merlot, which has the potential to be light in terms of tannin and body.  We found the character of the fruit to be a bit darker and more brooding than we might have expected from the nose and more interesting for it.  This little taste, and our time in the vineyard thus far have us more than just a little excited about the months to come and 2013 Merlot!

Expect updates on special projects progess every few weeks as we proceed toward harvest.  As always, thanks for reading and keep an eye to the various aspects of HRV media for photo updates from Cooking for Solutions, Wine Festival 2013, and the Bridge Dinner.




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