Since we began dry farming, I’ve seen our vineyards excel in numerous adverse weather conditions, including multiple years of drought and extreme heat events. Just as exciting, our vines do not seem to be aging on the same trajectory as traditionally farmed California Pinot Noir. 

– Kirk Lokka, Vineyard Manager

Hallberg Ranch

Pinot Hill


Guyot trained vines at Hallberg Ranch

Emeritus is committed to expressing the unique character of our vineyards. Both vineyard sites that Emeritus farms are on Goldridge soil, which is a sandy-clay loam that usually runs one to four feet deep, underlain with clay subsoils. Our vineyards are planted at “close spacing,” inspired by the great vineyards of Burgundy, France. At about 2023 vines per acre, our vines are trained and primarily pruned according to the Guyot system—a single lateral cane of about six to eight buds, with an end production of 14 to 16 clusters per vine.

Our sustainable farming practices allow the vines to naturally come into balance. With the same philosophy, Emeritus chooses to dry farm rather than adding any supplemental water to aid in the yearly cycle of the vines. Dry farming allows the vines to establish a natural balance of root mass, foliage, and fruit, and also helps the grapes achieve full ripeness without dehydrated flavors. While most irrigated vines have roots growing three or four feet deep and form a tight ball-like structure, dry farming forces the roots to grow 20 feet or more in search of water, with multiple root tendrils. This creates a healthier vine, enhancing its natural ability to adapt to weather variations.

Night Harvest at Pinot HillWhile most vineyards begin planning or replanting when the vines hit the 20-year mark, expecting a 25-year life span, my assessment of our vines is that they will stay dynamic and healthy for 40 to 50 years, which is much more consistent with the grand cru vineyards of Burgundy. It’s clear to me that this is a result of dry farming.

– Kirk Lokka, Vineyard Manager

In keeping with the hands-on approach that defines everything at Emeritus, both Hallberg Ranch and Pinot Hill are stewarded by a year-round, 17-person vineyard team led by Kirk. This team includes five Sonoma County pruning champions, and several individuals who have been with Emeritus since the beginning, as well a handful who worked with Brice and Kirk at Sonoma–Cutrer. The consummate skill and knowledge of this team ensures that both Hallberg Ranch and Pinot Hill are proactively farmed with a level of thoughtfulness and meticulous attention to detail that profoundly impacts the quality of wine.

Picking grapes at Hallberg RanchWe take an immense amount of care in the vineyards to keep the fruit pristine throughout harvest. Harvest begins at midnight, when the temperature in the vineyard drops below 50°F. The grapes are at peak quality (with the added benefit of cooler conditions for our vineyard crew). Hand picking naturally chilled clusters preserves their flavors and the impression of acidity as the fruit begins its journey to fermentation. 

Sorting harvested grapes at Hallberg Ranch

Hand sorting at the winery selects only the best grapes, removing any unevenly ripened or damaged clusters. The grapes are then transferred into small French Oak or stainless steel fermentation vats for cold soaking (which extracts flavors and colors), and subsequent fermentation.


Hallberg Ranch Vineyard

Aerial view of Hallberg Ranch

Location: Sebastopol

Wines Produced:
Hallberg Ranch, Wesley’s Reserve, Don’s Block, La Combette, Hallberg Ranch Elite, Hallberg Blanc, Ruby Ruby Saignée

Soils:
Goldridge Sandy Loam underlain with Sebastopol Sandy Clay Loam

Appellation:
Russian River Valley, Green Valley, Sonoma Coast

Average Temp During Growing Season:
Daytime: 78.2°F ~
Nighttime: 47.9°F

Clones planted:
4, 5, 37, 115, 459, 667, 777, 828, Cruz, Elite, Hyde

Acres planted: 107.76

Elevation: 200’ above sea level

Grade of slopes: 3.2%

The 110 acre home ranch of Emeritus Vineyards is in a cooler region of the Russian River Valley where fog lingers late into the morning. Highly sought after for its Goldridge soil and marine influence that comes from its proximity to the coast, Brice Jones purchased it in 1999. As part of our quest to produce the best Pinot Noir, we set out to switch completely over to dry farming in 2007 and completed weaning the vines of irrigation in the 2011 growing season. It is now the largest dry farmed vineyard in Sonoma County, and possibly in the state of California. 

Dry farming helps the grapes achieve full physiological ripeness at lower sugar levels, with more complex taste components in heightened balance. The lack of dehydration between waterings means the vines become more naturally in balance with the soil and climate, and in turn give the wine a purer expression of Hallberg Ranch’s unique terroir.

Fog and breezes from the Pacific Ocean cool the rolling, ridge-topped land here. During the day, moderate temperatures provide an ideal growing season in which the grapes ripen slowly. Nighttime fog cools the vineyards, most nights to below 55°F, and allows the grapes to retain the crucial acids that carry the flavors in the finished wine. 

Hallberg Ranch’s eponymous wine is a blend representing all of the clones and blocks of the vineyard. In addition, the vineyard produces Wesley’s Reserve, La Combette, Hallberg Ranch Elite, and Don’s Block, named after the late Don Blackburn, Emeritus’s founding winemaker.


Pinot Hill Vineyard

Aerial view of Pinot Hill

Location: Sebastopol

Wines Produced:
Pinot Hill, Pinot Hill East, Pinot Hill West, Pinot Hill Cruz, Pinot Hill Elite

Soils:
Goldridge Sandy Loam underlain with Los Osos Clay

Appellation:
Sonoma Coast, Sebastopol Hills

Average Temp During Growing Season:
Daytime: 77.5°F ~ Nighttime: 47.7°F

Clones planted:
4, 5, 115, 667, 777, 828, Elite, Cruz

Acres planted: 30.68

Elevation: 292’ above sea level

Grade of slopes: ± 10.2%

Pinot Hill is the younger of the two vineyards, and the smaller at 30 planted acres. As the name suggests this is a very steep vineyard, rising in elevation from 100 to 300 feet with 10-15% grades and ensuring good drainage which is so important for quality Pinot Noir. We proudly dry farm in this vineyard as well. 

Planted in 2008, Pinot Hill lies in the Sebastopol Hills area of the Sonoma Coast AVA—at the Northern edge of the Petaluma Wind Gap area. This is where the fog first penetrates inland from the Pacific and the last place it burns off in the afternoons. As a result, the vineyard is generally bathed in sunlight for only a few hours in the early afternoon; the rest of the day it is covered in fog. Because of this, Pinot Hill is often up to 10°F cooler than Hallberg Ranch, and is consistently harvested later. 

With its steep slopes, Goldridge sandy loam and very cool climate, Pinot Hill tends to produce darker colors and higher acidity. The cooler temperatures lengthen the growing season, allowing the grapes to retain acids while also encouraging the vines to keep their berries and clusters small and concentrated. Because of the long growing season, the tannins in the fruit tend to be finer in style. 

There is also a distinct difference between the fruit on the eastern and western slopes. The eastern slope is a cooler-climate wine due to reciving fog cover from the morning sun, resulting in wine that is lighter in color and higher in acid. By the afternoon that fog has usually burnt off, bathing the western slope in sunlight and cultivating a darker flavor. It’s such a vivid example of the land shaping the finished wine that in 2016 we began bottling Pinot Hill East and Pinot Hill West separately, in addition to our classic Pinot Hill blend.


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