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Crop Forcing

We’ve been conducting a little experiment here at CRV. It involves Pinot Noir, so let’s discuss that first. What should Pinot Noir be? According to sommeliers and wine critics it should be a wine of sophistication and elegance, it should be food friendly and well balanced, it should have soft tannins and express notes of ripe black cherry, raspberry, spice, etc. How then do you grow Pinot Noir that can become that kind of wine in the glass? The short answer is you grow it in a cooler climate. Pinot needs cooler weather to ripen at its best. It’s no accident then that the very best Pinot Noirs come from places like Burgundy, Willamette Valley, and New Zealand’s south island. What would you think then if I were to tell you that at Chiricahua Ranch Vineyards we have the perfect weather for growing Pinot Noir? Now you may be thinking that I’m going to tell you all about high elevation viticulture, but that’s not it. While CRV is high by Pinot standards at 4500 feet, that’s certainly not high by Arizona standards. What I’d like to tell you about then is a viticultural technique called Crop Forcing.
What is Crop Forcing? It’s a technique involving an aggressive mid-season pruning which “resets” the vines causing them to experience a week or ten days of faux dormancy followed by new growth, flowering, and fruit set, with the most critical last month of ripening happening then in the fall when the weather is much cooler. We’ve been doing this mid-season pruning in the third week of June, but the work actually starts much earlier. As soon as the vines start producing flower clusters in the spring, we start pulling them off. This takes several passes to remove all of them. After that mid-season pruning the vines are tended to much as any other, accept the schedule is off by several months. For example, springtime foliar nutrient applications happen in July and August. Harvest happens then in mid to late October.

This is obviously a lot of work and it represents a substantial investment in the wine. Is it worth it though? We think so, but ultimately you’ll have to be the judge. The 2017 vintage will soon be released under the Laramita Cellars label. You’ll have to let us know what you think.

Water, Giver of Life

This story, like so many in Arizona, starts with water. It’s been the subject of legal battles and gun fights, and fortunes have been made and lost over it. Grape vines don’t need much water, especially when compared to traditional crops in Arizona like vegetables, citrus, alfalfa, and cotton, but they do need some, and unfortunately much of the rainfall in Arizona occurs just when the vines don’t need it, during the late summer monsoons.

There are many areas around Arizona where the climate and soil would be conducive to viticulture, but after you eliminate land that is off limits because it’s owned by the government or part of a reservation, you’re left with far fewer choices. As you further consider water availability and quality, sites with potential as vineyard locations narrows even further. In many areas it’s difficult to get permits to drill new wells, and in other areas near streams and rivers, wells must be dug such that water isn’t inadvertently pulled underground from these sources, as doing so would violate someone else’s water rights.

The Willcox Playa is special when it comes to water. This large basin was once a lake. Gradually over time the lake dried as the climate changed, but even today after over a century of agriculture, ground water is still abundant in the area. Ground water is replenished by rainfall in the Dos Cabezas, Chiricahua, and other mountains that ring the basin. Rain that falls in the area simply has no where to go since this basin is the lowest point in the area. Water quality is not uniform, however. At lower elevations sulphur content can be high producing what locals sometimes call “stink water”. In some parts of the larger Willcox Playa area, flouride and arsenic levels can be dangerously high, and at slightly higher elevations in the foothills there is no guarantee that groundwater will be available. Many wells dug above 4500 feet barely produce enough water for residential use, and some don’t produce water at all.

So that brings us to the #1 factor that contributed to the site selection for Chiricahua Ranch Vineyards. It had a well and the water quality is excellent. Whether or not this well will provide enough water for the whole vineyard is yet to be seen. If not, we’ll dig a second well slightly deeper and bigger.

There are other unique aspects of this site. On this page in the future we’ll discuss them, as well as the current happenings at the vineyard. Please bookmark this page and check back soon!