Hobo’s Branham Rockpile Vineyard
The Branham Rockpile Vineyard is remote and at the outer limits of accessibility. Like the AVA in general, the site is composed of many small blocks characterized by steep slopes, poor soils, and intense wind exposure.
Planted by Gary Branham in 1991, it is the oldest Zinfandel vineyard in the Rockpile AVA. Furthermore, at a base elevation of 1500 it is thehighest Zinfandel vineyard in the Rockpile AVA. The vineyard sits above the fog line where it receives direct sunlight in the afternoon, however mornings, evenings, and nights are cold helping to preserve the fruit’s acid.
Against the odds, the vineyard is dry-farmed. The lack of surface water, forces the vines to extend roots into the volcanic rocky soils that are high in magnesium and iron.
Given this microclimate, it is only fitting that Gary chose to train the vines in the old goblet, or head-trained style. These vines end up looking like bushes or small goblets compared to vineyards that train vines with wires and posts. The goblet shape protects them from the wind and frost.
The combination of a deep root system and a challenging microclimate leads to low yields (never above 2 tons per acre), and high quality grapes. The Branham Rockpile Vineyard is proof that struggling vines make for more interesting wine.
In the bottle, we try to capture this unique place and the given year. Similar to all the wines we make, the winemaking is unforced. The fermentation runs its course un-manipulated and uninoculated. The wine ages in mostly neutral French oak puncheons (large 500L barrels). Stylistically, it’s lower in alcohol and more restrained than what is typical for Zinfandel these days, but also more sensitive to it’s terroir and the nuances that make it special. This is a complex, layered Zinfandel with backbone and structure.
An Affinity for Dry Farmed
Dry farmed vineyards are dependent on rain for their water. Without irrigation, dry farmed vines are left to search out moisture in the soil during dry spells. This ultimately makes for hardy, deep-rooted vines that naturally produce low quantities of high quality grapes. If you’ve ever eaten a dry-farmed tomato you know how powerfully good dry-farmed produce can be.
Dry farming was common early in California’s grape growing history. This changed quickly with the introduction of drip-irrigation in the 1970s. Dry farmed vineyards are a relic these days with new plantings favoring irrigation and the economics of higher, more consistent yields.
Despite viticultural and economic challenges, we continue to seek out and covet dry farmed vineyards. This added work and risk pay off with vines that respect more of their natural environment and wines that express their place and the conditions of the vintage.