View Archive The Sixteen 600 Blog By Sam Coturri

Category - Moon Mountain District, Farming, Vineyard, Planting
Posted - 06/17/2014 07:56pm
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Vineyard Rehab Part 1 AKA Muchas Piedras
When I posted the first Instagram picture of this vineyard reclamation project my friend Morgan Twain Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. aptly commented the "vineyard has looked, ahem, like it's not keeping up with the neighborhood." Of course, the neighborhood Morgan was referring to is a little slice of the Moon Mountain District above Sonoma Valley. The vineyard neighbors the Sixteen 600 Estate to the Northwest and the Phil Coturri-grown Liquid Sky Vineyard to the South.

Though technincally organic, the poorly planned and neglected block of Zinfandel had never been in commercial production and frankly, looked kinda sad. In fact, when I would bring groups up to Sixteen 600 and Liquid Sky for tours I would point to the vineyard as the result of organic by benign neglect. No cover crops were ever grown, the soil was never cultivated and the irrigation system was failing. So while there were no chemical fertilizers or pesticides applied, the vineyard struggled to grow let alone produce grapes.
However, early this year the property was sold and the new owner wanted a productive vineyard and we saw an opportunity to "grow" the Sixteen 600 Estate vineyard.

In early March arranged with the new owner to redevelop and farm the vineyard. The following is the first of an ongoing series documenting this redevelopment. In light of what Phil always says, you plant vineyards for your children and olive trees for your grandchildren, the first wine from this vineyard probably won't be available until 2020, 6 years after this project began.

The first task was to take out the old vineyard and the first step was to cut the vines off the trellis system and pull them out. The trellis system was then disassembled and sent to the metal recyclers. Here, Phil describes this process to Juan Oliveros who manages the Norrbom Road properties for Enterprise Vineyards.

Once the trellis and vines were removed, we were really able to see the site in all its raw, rocky glory. The vineyard has amazing exposure from due East to West Northwest, expansive views of the Sonoma Valley, the San Pablo Bay and Mount Tamalpais.

With the old vines and infrastructure removed, we reshaped the terraces to best accommodate for exposure, slope, soil (rock) composition and to maximize the amount of vines we could fit into the small vineyard. This reshaping also broke up the soil compacted by years of neglect. In most cases, this tractor time would make planting easier but nothing was going to make digging holes up here "easier."

With the terraces reshaped and the topsoil broken up, we could finally see just how rocky this vineyard is, and this is when Phil started to get really excited about it.

The new vineyard was laid-out with five feet between each vine and a minimum of eight feet between the rows depending on the terrace. Then came the "fun" part, digging 1,230 or so holes. This crew gathered close to the guy with the best radio so they could listen to Mexico play Brazil in the World Cup over the constant din of shovels and metal bars hitting rock.

In every vineyard Phil develops a shovelful of compost is added to the hole before the rootstock is planted. On a site where the soil has been as neglected as this vineyard, the scoop of compost will go a long way toward building up organic matter and helping ensure the survival of the vine.

With the holes dug, the compost added and the irrigation system working, it was time to plant the vines. We chose a rootstock called Paulsen 1103 because it is drought tolerant and good in rocky soils. Listen closely and you'll hear Juan say "Muchas piedras" (many rocks) stating the obvious.

In the next week or two, the first little green leaves will start appearing, marking the beginning of a new life for this rocky little slice of paradise. Stay tuned for more developments in Vineyard Rehab.

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Category - Organic,Farming,Vineyard,Cover Crop,Hawks
Posted - 03/23/2013 05:22pm
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Vineyards and the Environment

 Last week the New York Times ran an article discussing the effects of climate change on wine growing. This angle of the climate change story has been addressed before. The general consensus is that as the climate patterns change so will the regions suitable for wine production. In fact, as Times article points out, this is already happening with vineyards popping up in places previously too cold and inhospitable for vineyards.


However, this article took a different angle, asking what ecological effects these vineyards will have on their new locations “Vineyards have long-lasting effects on habitat quality. In addition to introducing sterilizing chemicals and fertilizer, mature vineyards 'have low habitat value' for native species “and are visited more often by nonnative species.”

Red-tailed Hawk. Native Species

Needless to say, global warming and climate change are much bigger issues than can ever be solved on a winery's blog. And we at Sixteen 600 would be the first to admit that worrying about where we're gonna get our wine from should be pretty low on our list when it comes to things to worry about with a changing climate. However, "long-lasting effects on habitat" and "introducing sterilizing chemicals"? That's an issue we have a lot to say about.


It's great that the New York Times and others are concerned about the ecosystems and water supplies of potential future wine growing regions but where's the concern about current wine growing regions? Conventionally farmed vineyards, like most any commercial agriculture, are hard on the environment around them. There is a lack of biodiversity, they scare off native species-both flora and fauna, chemical fertilizers and pesticides escape into the air, ground and water. Instead of worrying about the impact of vineyards in the future, let's focus on the vineyards of the present. Unlike most crops, grapes are a long-term commitment, it's up to the farmers to be as committed to the ecosystem around the vineyards as they are to the vines themselves.
Phil Coturri has always viewed himself as steward of the land, and his farming methods are dictated by that philosophy on a daily basis. The intensive cover crop program, the insectaries full of native plants, habitat for beneficial insects, the bird boxes and hawk perches are all ways to break the monoculture of the modern vineyard. These practices invite native species into the vineyard in a balanced way. On top of that, Phil hasn't applied a chemical pesticide or fertilizer in vineyard since the Ford Administration. The bottom line is vineyards and ecological balance don't have to be mutually exclusive. In fact Phil's career and Sixteen 600 Wines are a testament to ecological harmony in the vineyard will lead to balance in the wineglass.
A hawk perch

So if you're worried about climate change, we don't blame you, but as long as you're drinking Sixteen 600, you won't have to worry about your wine's effects on "habitat quality."

Habitat quality

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