by Fred McMillin
for June 12, 1998
Winery of the Week
Death of a Vineyard
"I was devastated...sure that there was no way to salvage this once great Syrah vineyard and its rich history."
...Chuck Ortman, Winemaker,
The dreaded phylloxera (fill-LOX-er-uh) insect had traveled down from northern California, to destroy the vineyard that critic Bob Thompson said produced the benchmark Syrah of the region. The loss of great grapes was particularly bad for Chuck Ortman, because that's what he emphasizes: "My winemaking philosophy has always been to let the fruit come through--to not over-make the wine."
His friend and neighbor, Gary Eberle, had planted the vines in 1973. Wasn't there some way they could perpetuate them? Well, it would be a huge task but they could take cuttings from the surviving vines, grow them in a nursery, tear out the old rootstock, plant phylloxera-resistant stock, and graft those nursery vines back onto the new wood. The entire vineyard was replaced. Chuck has just released the first vintage made from the grafted vines. Clearly, he still is making a "benchmark" Syrah, the 1996 Meridian Vineyards, 100% Syrah...rich fruit, easy on the tannins...$14.
Sauvignon Blanc - Out in the vineyard again, Chuck had the trellis direction
changed to increase sun exposure and improve grape flavors. For details see the
Dec. 8, 1997 WineDay article, "A
Why is the root-eating phylloxera so devastating? It's because they don't believe in family planning. In less than one year, the descendants of one female will amount to one BILLION bugs. (Wine Spectator)
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