Guest speaker Andrew Morris of Briceland Vineyards talked about the increasing recognition of Humboldt County as a good place to grow grapes and produce fine wines at the Garberville-Redway Rotary Club’s meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
”Our reputation is stronger with people outside the area” than it is locally, Morris told the Rotarians.
When his mother and stepfather, Maggie Carey and Joe Collins, first planted their vineyard in Briceland in 1985, few people believed that Humboldt County could be a good place to grow wine grapes.
Carey and Collins actually did not plant the area’s first vineyard, Morris admitted. That honor went to Rotarian Dennis Bourassa.
Humboldt’s climate is “somewhat between” the Sonoma Coast and the Willamette Valley in Oregon, Morris continued. He believes that climate, more than any other factor, affects the quality and character of wine. Even soil is not as important as climate.
More and more commercial winemaking is concentrated in a few big wine producers, Morris said. These producers strive to make their wines consistent, with each variety tasting the same no matter where the grapes came from and when it was made. Consistency is achieved through manipulating the winemaking process.
But Morris believes that “wine is about time and place.” Small wineries provide unique flavors characteristic of the place the grapes are grown and the weather during their specific growing season.
”Our philosophy at Briceland Vineyards is to allow the unique quality of the wine to shine through. My goal is to bring out the character of the grapes, the flavor of the vineyard, not what the winemaker makes,” Morris explained.
”But if the winemaker screws up, you’ll taste that,” he added.
Briceland Vineyards buys two-thirds of its grapes from Humboldt County vineyards, and the remaining one-third from growers in Lake and Mendocino counties. They would like to buy all their grapes locally, but there just aren’t enough vineyards. Morris hopes more local landowners will become interested in growing grapes.
The internet has been a boon to small winemakers because it enables them to connect directly with individual customers, Morris said. Wine writers can post information about wines they have tried, and readers can then order directly from the wineries, or through the website.
Appellation America, the world’s largest wine website
(www.wine.appellationamerica.com), attempts to sample and evaluate every wine produced in the United States, with an emphasis on the distinct characteristic of each wine growing area.
One Rotarian asked about water use, observing that concerns have been raised recently about water use for marijuana cultivation and its impact on SoHum watersheds.
”Ninety percent of the grapes grown in Humboldt County are dry-farmed, or almost dry-farmed,” Morris replied.
Irrigation is needed during the first three years after the vines are planted to give them a good start. “Think of grape vines as floppy trees,” said Morris. Like a fruit tree, once it is well-established it has grown deep roots and can find water deep underground so, unlike an annual crop, it does not need much irrigation.
In some of the colder parts of the county water may be needed in the spring for frost protection, but spring is usually a time of abundant water from rainfall.
Vineyards may also need some water at the end of the season just before harvest, particularly in a very hot, dry year, to keep the grapes from becoming too sweet. Just a gallon per vine is often adequate, Morris said.
Morris agreed with restoration groups that water should not be pumped from streams during the dry season. He recommended that everyone with a vineyard should build a pond for water storage.
The overall cost of starting a vineyard varies with the terrain, said Morris in response to another question. One of the biggest initial costs is building a fence. Labor is also a major cost.
”It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme,” he said.
The ideal vineyard site in SoHum is a south or southwest-facing slope at between 1,000 and 2,000 feet in elevation. In general, as you get closer to the mouth of the river, vineyards should be located farther inland because fog comes up the river and creates conditions too cool for growing good wine grapes.
Wines with higher alcohol content are sweeter than wines with less alcohol, Morris said. Cooler temperatures in French wine-growing regions have made French wines tarter than California wines, so the French are critical of the high alcohol content of California wines.
In the warm climate of California, winemakers may add acid to their wine to make it tart enough to be palatable.
Furthermore, the alcohol content shown on wine labels is not always accurate because if a wine contains more than 14 percent alcohol, extra tax is charged.
Asked how he sets his prices, Morris replied that above $30 a bottle, “the price is related to B.S.” He believes that many wines are overpriced because the winery is targeting the kinds of people who will pay extra-high prices for wine.
Briceland Vineyards prices its wine based on the cost of grapes and production. For example, Briceland’s sparkling wine is made from the same grapes as their pinot noir.
When they discovered that they made more money on a bottle of pinot noir that sells for $27 than on a bottle of sparkling wine for $30, Briceland increased the price of the sparkling wine.
Earlier during the Rotary meeting, Tina Tvedt, executive director of Redwoods Rural Health Center, was inducted as a new member. She was sponsored by Clif Anderson.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY VIRGINIA GRAZIANI
Andrew Morris, winemaker for Briceland Vineyards, was the Garberville-Redway Rotary Club’s guest speaker on Feb. 5. He talked about many aspects of growing wine grapes and making fine wine in Humboldt County, which is starting to receive national recognition as a wine-growing region.