I sent a few questions to Halcón's Paul Gordon regarding the fact that this winery's Mourvèdre vineyards are potentially growing in the coolest climatic setting in California, if not the world.
Here are some of my comments from an email to Mr Gordon made prior to inquiring about Halcon's experiences with Mourvèdre:
"In 2017, Halcón's
vineyards yielded a sufficient quantity of Mourvèdre - of satisfactory quality, to boot - to bottle a small amount of varietal wine. This incredibly exciting!! I am fascinated by growers/winemakers who, for one reason or another, are not able to produce a Mourvèdre in many years. Those instances when all the factors align to make such wines possible helps me to better understand certain facets of this grape variety.
is located in the Yorkville Highlands of Mendocino County. I am not thoroughly familiar with this sub-appellation, unfortunately. You previously have explained that your vineyards are too cool for a grape like Mourvèdre. However, Halcón
specializes in cool-climate Syrah and successfully grows Grenache with regularity. There is an oft-repeated maxim that certain varieties produce some of the very best wines when grown at the climatic fringes where maturity is possible.
knowledge, I have tasted no Mourvèdre from such a location.
"Many wine lovers cherish California's coastal Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, etc. The Northern Rhône frequently is exalted as home of the finest Syrah-based wines. There is little doubt that wines from cooler regions exhibit different characteristics than those sourced from warmer areas. Mountain-grown grapes typically yield flavors and textures unlike those harvested from fertile valley floors. I DID find a pretty interesting PowerPoint
presentation from Daniel Roberts, a gentleman who helps design vineyards:
"Cool Climate - Sonoma County Vineyard Technical Group (PDF download) sonomavintech.com › 2017-meetings"
"You have planted a variety that shares some similarities with both Syrah and Grenache, yet retains enough individuality to stand distinctly on its own. Mourvèdre needs water, but good drainage. It almost universally is found in warmer climes, and requires a long growing season. Unlike Grenache, it is reductive and, therefore, possesses a majestic capacity for age-worthiness as a varietally-bottled wine. It is not as at risk of runaway alcohol levels as Grenache, betraying the need for the sunlight and time that probably limits its success in your vineyards. However, the final product can share a little of Grenache's red fruit as well as Syrah's gravitas and, dare I say, earthy funkiness. The pepper-spice and darker fruits found in Syrah can be found in Mourvèdre, yet you don't find it planted along the Pacific Coast. Mr Chris Lymon doesn't have a column of his blog devoted to 'C-C' Mourvèdre: the site is SoloSyrah
"I cannot understate the importance of your work with Mourvèdre at Halcón
. I am ecstatic to know that you have another opportunity to showcase a varietal Mourvèdre in 2017. The fact that Halcón
is putting more
vines in the ground is heart-warming. Your vote of confidence in the potential greatness, the ability to take a great risk and essentially pioneer the borderlands of the grape might very well show the world of wine a new side to an underdog, long relegated to the safety net of Mediterranean climates. The Yorkville Highlands AVA should fund the effort; so should UC Davis! At the very least, a second edition of Patrick Comiskey's American Rhône
ought to dedicate a few lines to Halcón's
Interview Q&A with Mr Paul Gordon of Halcón Vineyards:
• The first time Halcón Vineyards
bottled a varietal Mourvèdre was the 2010 vintage. I don't know much about the vintage's effects in Mendocino, but Sonoma and Napa experienced heat waves. Can you please share some details about the decision-making process that led you to try a 100% Mourvèdre, rather than blending or selling off the juice?
Paul - "2010 was a cool year in Mendo, especially at our elevation. We had frankly given up on the Mourvedre, planning not to harvest - the fruit was not mature enough in late October, seeds green and rain coming. I was walking thru the vineyard just before Thanksgiving and happen to taste the Mourvedre fruit. The fruit had matured. So we went ahead and picked it. Unfortunately, our custom crush was no longer accepting fruit, so Steve Lagier agreed to process at his place in Napa."
• What do such seemingly disparate vintages as 2010 and 2017 have in common that led to the yields which made a Halcón Vineyards
Mourvèdre a possibility?
Paul - "Yields on our Mourvèdre had been very low 2009-2016, generally around 1t per acre. What changed in 2017 was the pruning."
"Common knowledge is Mourvèdre is a late bud-break that is not susceptible to frost. This was confirmed in 2008 when the Mourvèdre was the only variety to give us any meaningful yield. So I would pruned the Mourvèdre early, typically in January, while the Syrah was pruned in late Feb/early March. I came to realize that, though the Mourvèdre was not experiencing catastrophic effects from our cold, often snowy early-mid Aprils, it was enough to restrain the yield. So, in 2016 we started pruning at the same time as the Syrah.
"In addition to pruning timing, we also changed the way we pruned the Mourvèdre. We took the vines back to at head-trained style with 3-5 spurs per plant. Note we have 2200 plants per acre, 3ft by 2m spacing. The reduced number of spurs/shoots leads to a lesser number of, but stronger, more fruitful, shoots."
• How did you even decide to establish a high-elevation vineyard on the border of the Yorkville Highlands and the cool Anderson Valley, then plant Mourvèdre and Grenache among your Syrah vines?
Paul - "It was always a risky proposition. We knew that that we would be on the edge for ripening of southern Rhône varieties, but thought it worth the risk to create some unique wines. We planted just two acres of Grenache and one acre of Mourvèdre, all on sheltered South-facing slopes."
• What specific Clone/selection did you decide to plant in the South-facing Mourvèdre vineyards originally, and which did you choose for the newer Mourvèdre additions? What led to this specific decision?
Paul - "We use the Tablas Creek (Beaucastel) selection. We have yet to expand the original Mourvèdre planting but are considering budding over 1/2 acre of 174 Clone Syrah to Mourvèdre this Spring. I would continue to use the Tablas Creek selection as I am concerned that heritage CA Mourvèdre selections (which are typically from the Sacramento Delta region) have morphed to adapt to the warm CA climate."
• Compared to Mourvèdre from warmer, Mediterranean climate sites, what kinds of flavors are you detecting in the wines produced by Halcón's
Paul - "We definitely have a more floral, herbal, red-fruited profile. Using (50%) stems also accentuates that."
• Do you consider your location to be at the climatic threshold for successful maturity of Mourvèdre fruit? How strongly do the elevation and vines' South-facing exposure ameliorate the colder location of the estate's Grenache and Mourvèdre vineyards?
Paul - "Yes. We picked at 22.6b on November 1st this year. I do expect that we will not get mature fruit in cold years. In 2011, we managed to pick just 1/2 ton in early November, but it was really on the edge of ripeness. Any greater amount and it would have been left on the vine."
• Have you found anyone else following in your footsteps? Are you inspired by some other grower's similar efforts?
Paul - "Still early days for inspiring others . And, to be honest, there were no others doing very cool-climate Mourvèdre at the time. I do like what Hardy (Wallace of Dirty & Rowdy) has done recently."
• Do you aim to bottle more varietal wines from Mourvèdre, or is your plan to create more blends from the newer acreage of Mourvèdre?
Paul - "This year we had three different fermentation tanks of Southern Rhone varieties - a 100% Mourvèdre, a blend of 65% Grenache/20% Syrah/15% Mourvèdre, and a 100% Grenache. We will likely bottle three wines (though there maybe some tweaking of blends)."
• The newer plantings will obviously take some time before they can find their way into bottles. Have you been documenting the performance of the existing Mourvèdre vines? What kinds of things do you look at in order to make determinations of success or failure in this experiment?
Paul - "As I noted above, we have not yet expanded beyond the original single acre. For the planned bud-over of the 1/2 acre of Syrah to Mourvèdre, we will select buds from the most healthy of our current Mourvèdre vines."
Ukiah Daily Journal
"John on Wine: Spotlight – Wines of Halcón Vineyards"
by John Cesano
November 11, 2015
"...Driving through the gate at Halcón Vineyards, at about 2,450 feet in elevation, I was met by Paul, Jackie Bracey, David Campbell and Cookie, the vineyard dog. Although the day was sunny, ever-present winds, which reached over 90 mph this year, keep things cool.
"Paul told me he believes he has 'probably the coolest Mourvèdre planting in the world,' and we toured vineyard blocks where the first rows were dried into near permanent dormancy by constant wind.
"The very cool climate of Halcón Vineyards in the Yorkville Highlands saw bud break come in March and April this year, a full month or more later than in other parts of Mendocino County. Halcon was planted 10 years ago, in four distinct blocks, in serpentine and schist 's*** soil,' with lots of elevation changes, and south-facing exposures...."