MOUNTAIN WINEMAKING: Mountain Farming

Voice of Place, A Unique Expression of Howell Mountain

"I find the sweet herbal complexity, minerality, spice and red fruit of La Jota wines to be very similar to the wines of Bordeaux," says Winemaker Christopher Carpenter. "Our cooler, high-elevation climate and extended hangtime develop this layered, complex expression."

Mountain Virtues

Cool wind sweeps up the canyon from Lake Hennessy, preventing a cold blanket of air from settling over our vineyard. In the spring, this reduces our need for frost protection after bud-break, and in the fall, the chilly air extends hangtime; we have harvested Cabernet Sauvignon as late as November 4. In fact, high on the mountain temperatures rarely become hot enough to stress the vines and shut down photosynthesis. As a result, ripening is even and steady, with cool nights that maintain balanced acidity in the grapes. Yields here are naturally low, due to the lean soils and rugged mountain conditions, and assertive crop thinning further concentrates the vine's energy into a limited number of clusters, resulting in the highest quality grapes.

Mountain Challenges

Water is a precious commodity in winegrowing country, especially on a mountain. Our vines must root deeply to find moisture during the growing season, a beneficial struggle that results in small berries with highly extracted flavors. The lack of water also presents a challenge during replanting, since young vines need irrigation to establish their root systems. We are only able to irrigate 12 to 14 rows at a time, so we plant in very small blocks, carefully considering our selection of drought-resistant rootstocks, clones, site exposures, wind directions, soils and drainage systems.

Sustainable Farming

We employ sustainable farming practices that protect the earth while producing high-quality wines:

  • Lean, gravelly volcanic soils foster vines with less vigorous shoots and leaves, allowing more sunlight and air
    to reach the center of the vine and naturally controlling pests and mildew.
  • A large native ladybug population helps us control leafhoppers and mites.
  • Organic compost and cover crops increase soil fertility and water penetration; fava beans planted between the
    vineyard rows, for example, boost soil nitrogen levels.
  • If we must implement additional controls, we choose organic rather than synthetic products.
  • Mowing our sloped vineyards, rather than disking, minimizes erosion.

La Jota Vineyards

Our 28.05 planted vineyard acres on the La Jota estate include 20.58 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.24 acres of Merlot, 2.88 acres of Cabernet Franc and 1.35 acres of Petit Verdot. These are divided into 16 micro-blocks.

Hill Vineyard

  • 9 acres
  • Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot
  • Planted: between 1978 and 2007 (grafted 2008)
  • Rootstocks: Riparia Gloire, 101–14 and 3309
  • Trellising: bilateral cordon (split canopy) and vertical shoot positioning (VSP)

Meadow Vineyard

  • 17 acres
  • Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon (divided into 9 micro-blocks) and Merlot (2 micro-blocks)
  • Planted: 1993 to 2007 (grafted 2008)
  • Rootstocks: Riparia Gloire, 5C, 5BB, 110R, 420A, 1103P and 3309
  • Trellising: VSP, quadrilateral cordon and bilateral cordon

Winery Block Vineyard

  • 1.89 acres
  • Variety: Cabernet Franc
  • Planted: 1976
  • Rootstock: St George (the reason it survived phylloxera)
  • Trellising: Two cross-arms