Vineyard Update, July 2021


JULY 21, 2021: For the moment, mornings are quiet at the historic McDowell Ranch in Hopland. Signs of veraison, the color change that occurs in red grapes as they ripen, can be seen throughout the vineyard. The stillness in the air foreshadows the bluster of activity to come- a collective deep breath before the plunge. Grapes destined for rosé, usually the first pick of the year, are hardly a month out. The clock is ticking.

‘Normal’ is a tough term to use for describing the modern vintage in California Wine Country. In degree days, a farming measurement that factors temperature and sunlight in a given year, the current grapes at McDowell Ranch are tracking very similar to those in 2020. Yet the constant heat waves and lack of water are forcing hard decisions in the vineyard. The ‘21 season, which began in a near drought, has only escalated in condition. The lake on the property has receded to uncover a metal post submerged nearly fifty years ago marking the previous low water line- 1976. As of late July this year, the water level was four feet below that old post. 

It’s times like this that the wisdom and skill of the vineyard crew really shines.  The team has been extremely proactive- down-sizing systems to make use of limilted water, dropping fruit to ensure longevity of younger vines, and rigorously budgeting irrigation schedules. Although crop levels will be drastically lower in terms of total volume in 2021, the fruit is looking as vibrant and healthy as ever.

And of course the old vines, who hardly notice the drought at all. McDowell Ranch, famed for these ancient vineyards, boasts native Syrah and Grenache plantings dating back to the 1880s, with monster root systems reaching clear down to the water shelf. Dry-farmed for nearly a century and a half, these vines have never been watered a day in their lives. Year in and out, they produce a consistent yield of ethereal fruit- and just like the wine improves with age, so does the vine it’s born from.

But hey, what’s all this buzz around Block 7? The bees of course! These tireless workers/residents act as cross-pollinators for regenerative cover crops, as well as aid in biodiversity and pest control by creating an enticing environment for beneficial micro-critters. The hive (currently loving their daily commute to the nearby thistle) is tended by local beekeepers Killian Honey Company, and is an integral part of the organic ecosystem on the ranch.


About the Vineyard

McDowell Ranch is a 270 acre vineyard just east of Hopland in southern Mendocino County. Purchased by Marietta in 2012 after decades of a working partnership, this site is renowned for its Rhone varietals- the Syrah and Grenache vines planted here are some of the oldest in the western world. Geographically situated nearly 1,000ft above sea level with the Russian River on its western flank, the McDowell Valley AVA is slightly cooler than neighboring areas- the surrounding mountains create a deep, round ‘cold-sink’ that ensures a low night time temperature while maintaining the hot, sunny days standard of coastal California. The conditions here are nearly perfect for maintaining the delicate balance of fruit, structure, and length in a finished wine- especially the Rhone varietals planted here. Most notably, McDowell Ranch is home to the famed Gibson Block- a vineyard planted in the 1880s that is the source for our Gibson Block Syrah, as well as a portion of our Old Vine Rose. Learn more about these wines through the links below. Marietta is proud to be 100% organically farmed.  

Gibson Block Syrah. LEARN MORE>

Old Vine Rose. LEARN MORE>