In 2009, Celeste and I found a bit of property off Laguna Road with an old farmhouse overlooking an empty field, untended fruit trees and a kiwi grove running wild. Even then, standing under the five towering redwoods that spoke of the property’s history, we felt the tingle of potential.
This year, we will see that potential realized.
After a year in the greenhouse and two years in the field, our 3.75-planted acres of vines will finally bear fruit that will be sold to a winery. Our Pinot Noir vines have set their roots in our sandy Goldridge soil and thrived in the privileged conditions of the Russian River Valley AVA with its warm days, cool evenings and fog-draped mornings. Pruning in early March will mark the first step toward our first harvest, and we’re proud to announce that at the end of that journey, our fruit will be sold to Kosta Browne Winery, an award-winning local winery whose Pinot Noir was named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 2011.
Today, we’re launching a new section to celebrate the beginning of our first growing season called “Steps to Harvest.” Here, we’ll:
- track our progress as we move from pruning to bud break to veraison to harvest.
- offer insights into the special world of a winegrower.
- keep a glossary of terms.
- provide videos from all our team that will explain the ins-and-outs of grape growing.
- show the evolution of the vineyard through images.
Each member of the Gantz Family team will have a special role to play in the coming months, and each member has a hope in his or her heart for the end results:
Kristin Lowe, viticulturalist, Vine Balance Consulting:
Kris doesn’t like to describe herself as a control freak, but she does want to check with her own eyes how the vines are doing, so our wonderful viticulturalist will be visiting Gantz Family Vineyards as often as three times a month during the busy summer months. Kris will be determining the spray schedule to keep away mildew and pests; keeping her eyes out for mites and leaf hoppers and other insects; taking leaf samples to analyze for nutrient content and managing fertilization; and working with the rest of the team to make irrigation and canopy management decisions.
“[Clay and Celeste] did not just move up from the city and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to grow grapes by myself,” Kris said. “They were looking for high quality and they got the right players involved, which means that simple things are not going to go wrong.”
Ulises Valdez, vineyard manager, Valdez & Sons Vineyard Management Inc.:
Growers and winemakers driving down Laguna Road recognize that Gantz Family Vineyards is a Valdez-planted vineyard by its neat and picturesque rows. So Ulises, who manages a thousand acres as well as seeing to 200 acres of his own highly regarded vines, wants to make sure the vineyard is a proper showcase.
“The whole vineyard is so beautiful,” he said. “And Clay and Celeste babysit every vine. I like the way they’re concerned about everything. For them, it’s like my first vineyard was for me, like my first babies.”
Ulises and his team will be treating the vines like newborns as they prune, trim the suckers and manage the canopy throughout the growing season. His focus this year will be keeping the fruit output small and directing the plants’ energies toward building strong vines for future years.
“The first year, we have to babysit these vines,” he said. “We’ll have little grapes because I’d rather have a good canopy for 2014. We don’t want to overcrop this vineyard.”
Celeste Gantz, grower and co-owner:
The harvest of 2012 was a record-smashing harvest for California, with weather so perfect and fruit so abundant that after filling their contracts, some growers just let the fruit turn to raisins on the vines. One might think that new growers looking down the barrel of their first harvest would feel the pressure for that same level of success this year. But Celeste – who manages the vineyard’s books, prunes the fruit trees, hunts for gophers and steps into any undone chore at Gantz Family Vineyards – takes a realistic view to this year’s growing season.
“Every year is going to be different, and we can’t think about how it’s been in the last few years because we can’t count on that,” she said. “We do preventative work where we can, but there’s only so much we can do to prevent what Mother Nature wants to do to us.”
Her hopes are small: She hopes the predators and pests are few, that viruses and frost damage are non-existent. Sure, she would love another picture-perfect year to pillow the baby vines. But 2013, with its lack of winter rain, already looks different than 2012.
“You have to be able to roll with it,” she said. “Where do I want to be at end of harvest? I want to be here.”
Clayton Gantz, grower and co-owner:
As the mastermind behind Gantz Family Vineyards, Clay has specific objectives for the growing season: He wants to establish a back half-acre – Celeste’s block – with spring-grafted buds on previously planted root stock and perhaps expand the vineyard a bit; he wants to learn as much as he can from Kris and Ulises about pruning, irrigation, nutrient management and pest control; and he wants to figure out how much he can get accomplished around the vineyard with his tractor and new spader.
His highest priority? “I really want to see how much quality we can get out of the vineyard,” he said. “How good can it be?”
Clay’s hope is that the quality is so good that a winery will want to put the name “Gantz Family Vineyards” on the label, an honor known as a vineyard designation. He knows, with small harvests in the beginning, that such an honor may be a couple years off.
“But I’ve no doubt it’s achievable,” he said. “One of the interesting things about being here was how quickly Celeste and I felt connected to the place and its history. We feel like we’re plugging into a timeline, and we want to add to its story.”