“It is widely held that high vine-densities lead to improved wine quality…many of the worlds most famous vineyards, especially in the Old World, have very narrow spacings” –Jancis Robinson The Oxford Companion to Wine
Every tiny cluster is counted from the beginning of the growing season, and yields are kept meticulously low on these remarkably higher-density, Estate-Vineyards. We farm vine-by-vine in these European styled vineyards, which were planted and are organically farmed by us and our attentive Small Vines Team to specifically produce fewer pounds per vine of superior quality fruit. We use centuries-old, natural methods in order to achieve this.
“Today Sloan and his wife, Kathryn, are the vintners of Small Vines, a Sebastopol brand that is based on the Burgundian model of winemaking and vineyard management. The philosophy embraces the practice of getting smaller yields from higher-density, European-styled spacing of vines. The Sloans say they reap fewer pounds per vine in order to produce higher quality fruit.” Peg Melnik-Press Democrat
In constant pursuit of distinctive Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, we are crafting wines that are pure, authentic and balanced. At the very heart of our wine growing excellence, is a desire to craft distinctive wines that are meaningful to you- the one putting it in your glass. Our wines come only from our Estate vineyards that we have planted closer together than average on very low vigor sites, as a result, giving us a physically small plant. A physically smaller plant that is balanced will have less fruit on it naturally, than a large one. Smaller berries, smaller clusters and smaller- more intense yields are imperative to achieve higher wine quality.
We are demanding of ourselves in our selection, attention to detail and meticulousness. It all begins with choosing to work with only spectacular sites, comprised of low-vigor soils, and gently handling and preparing this soil organically. We use PhD soil scientists and PhD plant pathologists to study both the soil and the plants .Only the finest plant material and clonal selections are desirable for their low-yields and tiny clusters. Hand selecting only the healthiest plants for these unique vineyards, we uncompromisingly pursue balance of these plants with the soils of the vineyard in order to reveal the greatest essence of place.
Pinot Noir is a delicate, nuanced variety. The style of wine we are farming for is to retain more natural acids in the fruit and to achieve lower alcohol when the fruit tastes-truly ripe. With the vines closer together, the fruit receives less solar radiation due to the proximity of the neighboring vine row, resulting in better acid retention in the fruit. For this reason, slower sugar accumulation with fruit maturation comes from photosynthesis in the leaves rather than the fruit receiving excessive harsh exposure to the sun. The great beauty of this method results in complex, nuanced wines, with depth and great length of flavor, that age very well.
We follow the True Vigneron model: planting, growing and minimal “winemaking”. Here at Small Vines we know that inspirational wines begin with obsessive-excellence in the vineyard- we are out in the vineyards repeatedly and we spare no expense farming each vine precisely. “Many times I have been accused of being obsessive in the vineyard and this I try to balance by being a minimalist in the winery.” Paul Sloan
The single most important element to outstanding wine quality is balance. We achieve that naturally as a result of vineyard architecture. “My goal is a balanced wine made from balanced vines and to achieve this we consistently farm each vine individually”-Paul Sloan. We touch each vine independently over 28 times each during the growing season and are dedicated to doing the following:
- Use Grand Cru standards for pruning- Only allowing a maximum of 10 shoots per meter
- Allow each vine to carry only 1-2 pounds of fruit (less than a tenth of the average yields in CA)- Low yields per plant are crucial to ultimate wine quality
- Handling each vine obsessively throughout the year- Thin the plant material as well as the fruit material early on to ensure the plant is focusing on stellar fruit all year long
- Carefully monitor soil moisture- Use water very sparingly, if at all, and only if necessary to improve wine quality, and only on specific vines using modified irrigation
- Using clips to aid hand positioning each individual shoot to ensure proper sun exposure and perfect fruit maturation
- Inspecting the quality of each tiny cluster in the vineyard and, if necessary, using tweezers to thin fruit down to the berry
The soils are worked with very narrow, light tractors, and even by hand to keep the organic material high, and compaction low. We want the soils to be alive with organic matter and micro-organisms. In fact, the history of wide spacing in vineyards has more to do with tractor access than wine-quality. Historically, vines were worked with plow horses- and the access need only be that wide. As tractor and farming technology became available to the average farmer, ease of farming and efficiency increased- also quantity of crop increased, but quality was being reduced.
Grown in close proximity to one another, these smaller plants create smaller clusters with tiny berries and the result is more concentration of flavors. Much of the flavor, color and tannin in red wines come from the skins- having tiny berries will increase the skin to pulp ratio and therefore enhance those elements in the wines. Power and structure in a wine need not come from extracted alcohol and tannin, but from a seductive concentration of flavor.
Please come out and visit to see for yourself a Small Vines Vineyard and the great lengths we go to, to achieve excellence. We know that ultimately you are the only critic that matters, and for that, the proof really is in the glass! We hope you enjoy these wines as much as we have enjoyed creating them.