Over the years, I have worn a path down the long, winding road depicted on the label to visit David Hirsch’s vineyard. David somehow found this spot more than 30 years ago and even more improbably planted it to Pinot Noir grapevines. Now, the vineyard is famous but I am sure at the time it seemed like folly to plant anything so far out in the middle of nowhere. That is what inspired the picture.
But the real inspiration is to experience the single mindedness that David brings to his vineyard. When I make the long drive out there to snoop around, he’s nearly always out in the field, working the land, thinking about the vines. He has stacks of handwritten notes about each block of vines. Sometimes when we chat I’m unable to follow what he’s saying because too many ideas are pouring out all at once. During harvest, he’s the one driving the tractor, pulling leaves from the bins of grapes. If he’s not on the tractor, he’s back at the winery where he makes his own Hirsch Vineyards wine, sorting grapes. Not afraid to get dirty. It’s all about the wine for this guy - and I’m drawn to that.
Farming on the edge of the continent has its drawbacks though. The coastal ridges intercept a lot of moisture during the winter, and they can get 60 inches of rain—or more—in a wet year. Because the “true” Sonoma Coast, where Hirsch is located, is almost entirely mountainous, the percentage of plantable land on any parcel is quite low. Much of the land is too steep to farm, and for the most part all that is planted is what lies atop the various ridges. Ridgetop soils are often highly eroded, which is usually good for winegrapes because much of the organic matter is leached out and the ground tends to be well drained. It is also highly exposed to the sun and to the wind as well. The vineyard is subject to the cooling influence of the ocean, but it is high enough in elevation that it is above the fog much of the time. In fact, if you were the same distance from the ocean as Hirsch vineyard but at or near sea level, it would be too cold to ripen grapes. The area also has a tendency toward extreme weather in the spring; so poor set and small crops occur much more often than further inland. But the wines from this place (David was kind enough to let me taste a series of them, going back to 1996, from a variety of producers including Kistler, Littorai and Williams Selyem) have a wild berry fruit, haunting spice and unmistakable energy about them that is very compelling. I hope that my small offering is a worthy successor to those wines.
Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir