Monday, December 22, 2008
Back before I started The Wellesley Wine Press, I mentioned wine stuff occasionally as part of my family blog. One of the lengthier pieces I wrote was on the subject of a wine tasting trip I did out to Sonoma where I first met Paul Clary of Clary Ranch. Here's a picture of me and Paul from that trip back in August of 2007 (Paul is the handsome one on the left):
This past September, I had a chance to go back and visit Clary Ranch in person and get to know Paul and his winery a bit better. Paul was kind enough to do an interview with me that I'll be running as part of a three part series over the next few weeks. I think the answers Paul gave to my questions are *fascinating*. I hope you agree...
Part 1: Viticulture
Q: What did you do for a living before getting into wine, and how did you learn to grow grapes and make wine?
Paul Clary: Before planting the vineyards, I was a carpenter. I grew up helping out at my grandparents' walnut orchard in the foothills of the Sierras. Learned to drive a tractor at age 12. Set fenceposts, trapped gophers, watered seedlings, harvested and processed walnuts. So my agricultural education started from my earliest days. I studied Biological Sciences at UC Davis, getting my Bachelors degree in 1982. In 1998, when I purchased the ranch, I studied viticulture with Richard Thomas at Santa Rosa Junior College. I completed planting 15 acres of Pinot Noir and Syrah in 2000. In 2001, faced with the task of luring buyers for these unproven grapes, I studied winemaking with Ernie Farinias, the cellarmaster at UCD. Later, with the help of fellow UCD Alum, Richard Delmonico, I produced the first wines from Clary Ranch. These wines were used to "demo" the vineyard for grape buyers. I continued to make wine in subsequent years, culminating in the jump to commercial production in 2004.
Q: As we were walking through the vineyard when I visited Clary Ranch, I think I noticed for the first time how much care is put into growing grapes for making wine. But at the same time, in some ways, growing grapes is a very fundamental "farming" operation. Can you give some simple examples of things a grower can do (or not do) that truly makes a difference in the quality of the wine that comes from the grapes?
Paul: Growing grapes is farming. Having a worker make 1 pass through the vineyard costs $X. Whatever he does has to be worth more than $X. Wine grapes have a high enough value, when grown properly, to justify the level of care that you see. Keep in mind that whatever you do, you've got tens of thousands of whatever to do. A simple example of things we do for quality's sake would be pulling the leaves that give morning shade to the grape cluster. We leave the afternoon shade leaves, protecting the clusters from sunburn. The additional morning light results in better color and richer flavors.
Q: How much do you think consumers should pay attention to appellation when making wine selections? I mean, do you think it's smart to pay a premium for Napa Cab over Sonoma? Is locale more important than winemaking -or- is winemaking more important than locale?
Paul: Appellation matters. Farming matters. The right grape, grown properly in the right spot is what matters most.
Q: A lot of wine people will say that the Willamette Valley makes the best Pinot Noir is the US. I think both regions produce excellent Pinot. How do wines made from grapes grown in the Sonoma Coast differ in general from Oregon Pinots?
Paul: I need to drink far more Oregon Pinot to begin to have anything intelligent to contribute on this.
Q: I've heard that the movie "Sideways" has really increased the popularity of Pinot Noir. Did you have your Pinot planted prior to the movie coming out? Either way, is Clary Ranch ideally suited to Pinot and Syrah? Or could it support other varietals?
Paul: Sideways came out several years after we planted. I was certainly glad to see the bump that it gave to the market. While both Pinot Noir and Syrah do very well here, I'd guess that Riesling and Gewurztraminer, among others, would do equally well. Unfortunately, the farming economics of White Wine aren't as advantageous as those of Red Wine.
Other installments of this interview:
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Click here to visit the Clary Ranch Web Site.
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If you have any comments or questions for Paul, please leave them below and I'll be sure to pass them along. I'd like to thank Paul for the time he took answering my questions for this interview so honestly and enthusiastically, and especially for the special offer he's extended to my readers.