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Medlock Ames
 
December 13, 2021 | Organic Farming | Medlock Ames

Adapting to Our New Climate


ADAPTING TO OUR NEW CLIMATE

Hello and Happy Holidays! In this time of reflection, I want to share some of the changes we have made at Bell Mountain Vineyard to make it more resilient to climate change.

WHY CHANGE? THIS IS OUR STORY...

When my best friend Chris James and I found Bell Mountain in 1997, we discovered abandoned Merlot vines and crumbling terraces. Through extensive soil testing and environmental studies, we discovered the grape that thrives best at this location is Cabernet Sauvignon followed by Bordeaux blenders and Sauvignon Blanc. Over the next several years, we embarked on a massive replanting project to put in a broad array of rootstock and clones for Cabernet Sauvignon along with more Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot as well as a touch of Syrah and Pinot Noir because I love those varieties. We also acquired the neighboring property which had been recently planted to Chardonnay and incorporated Sauvignon Blanc into the mix. In total, we had 9 varieties planted which gave us incredible flexibility in the winery to show what Bell Mountain was capable of. 

OVER THE NEXT FEW DECADES...

I’ve witnessed how each of these varieties has evolved as the impacts of climate change take hold. We’ve had erratic rain and droughts combined with several years of extreme heat. The assumptions we made when the vineyards were first planted were no longer as relevant as the climate around those vines had changed dramatically. As we remained committed to our original goals of producing the best wine possible from Bell Mountain, we were evaluating what were the right vines and varieties to thrive for the next 20 years at Bell Mountain. 

THEN ON THE NIGHT OF OCTOBER 27TH 2019...

the Kincade Fire swept through our ranch. When I arrived the following morning, everything surrounding me was charred black. It was devastating and utterly shocking. The fire was a pivotal moment for us. Suddenly it brought the impacts of climate change into sharp focus, and it has awakened in us a desire to be a part of the solution and to see our ranch in the broader context of our neighborhood, our watershed, and even our role in the global issue of reversing climate change.

Immediately after the fire, it appeared that less than 2,000 vines were touched by flames. However, over the following two years, we noticed that the damage to our vines was more extensive than we originally believed. We saw the leaves on entire blocks turn red from disease, exacerbated by the fire. While it was heartbreaking to me, we had to make the tough decision to pull up 20% of our vineyard. This makes what remains even more precious to us.

Of the blocks that were most impacted, our entire Petit Verdot and Syrah had to be removed. Even more heartbreaking to me was the need to pull out the old-vine Merlot that sat along the terraces which we painstakingly restored by hauling 50 tons of rocks 24 years ago.

WE NOW HAVE 45 BEARING ACRES... 

of vineyard remaining with an additional 4 acres that have been replanted on drought-resistant rootstock as we look to put vines into the ground that have the greatest chance of surviving the changing climate at this site. We continue to evaluate our vines as there are a few more blocks that may survive but are not in the clear yet. 

While it has been emotionally taxing to see the devastating impact of the fire on all our hard work over the years, it has also provided a sense of clarity and purpose that I never knew possible. Of the blocks that remain at Bell Mountain, I’m more convinced than ever that the dual impact of the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean buffered against the Mayacamas coupled with California’s abundant sunshine is why Cabernet Sauvignon does so well as this site.

WE'VE GOTTEN LASER FOCUSED... 

About what we do best. Going forward, we are going to stay focused on our Cabernet Sauvignon program, showing you how the soil and climate impact our 20 unique Cabernet blocks allowing us to craft gorgeous wines with their own personalities and expressions of our terroir. We are leaning into our Cabernet Sauvignon in a bigger way so will be sharing exciting news with you about our Cabs in the coming months.   

I’d love to talk to you more if you have any questions or thoughts on climate change or responsible farming. Please email me directly at ames@medlockames.com.

Cheers,

Ames Morison
Co-Founder, Medlock Ames Winery 

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