A Vineyard in the Rough

While the first (half) week included some familiarizing work in the Tensley tasting room and winery (mostly some riveting hours spent washing glasses and topping some barrels of Syrah) I wanted to focus in this post on the work that was done this week in the new estate vineyard being put in on Joey Tensley’s property (a <10 acre property that doubles as Joey’s BEAUTIFUL private residence in the rolling hills of the Santa Ynez Valley).  When I arrived on the 1st, I was quickly introduced to the core team of the Tensley wine operation.  Joey Tensley is the owner, winemaker, recent vineyard manager and essentially sole businessman in charge of distribution and retail sales.  Zach W. is his 23 year old right-hand man; a recent graduate of UC Berkley with a degree in micro-biology.  And, aside from a handful of contracted agricultural workers, this is the nitty-gritty of the Tensley team.

Much to my luck, I arrived at the true pinnacle of new-vineyard excitement.  Aside from a few hours spent distributing trellising poles, all energy was focused on the 2400 vines of Syrah clone 470 that were scheduled to arrive on the 2nd, the day after I arrived in town.  I awoke bright and early (I thought 7 am died with high-school) on the second and, after spending some quality time with a dish-washer, polishing tasting room glasses, Zach and I arrived at the vineyard to the sight of 2400 neatly dug planting holes with Joey standing eagerly in the middle of his field.

Syrah Homes

10 or 12 contracted agriculture workers were also present (on the clock) to help with the planting for the day.  There was excitement in the air; despite the fact that the nursery delivering the vinespromised to deliver at promptly…. anytime that day!  Thus the excitement was a blend of anticipation and frustration.  Not only were there a dozen on-the-clock farmers sitting around with nothing else to do but make sure that each hole was dug correctly, but there was a front of threatening weather (intense winds that could easily dry out a vulnerable graft union) quickly making its way towards our part of town.  Thankfully, the vines arrived around noon and we were all able to get to work.  The following few hours were truly magical.  It felt as though we were watching over tender, vulnerable creatures that would one day mature into complex and crafted wines.  Planting vines instills a sense of maternity in those involved; a responsibility to coax the fragile vines from pot to soil and ensure that they have the right conditions to take root and thrive.  Each vine was placed into a 3 foot hole with about 15 inches of rootstock protruding out of the ground, with the graft union at the top.  After planting, cardboard cartons were placed around each vine and tethered to the trellis to protect the graft union from drying out  during the fragile stages of growth.  As in all exciting stories, though, there was a hitch.  As the planting winded down, it became apparent that the nursery had delivered only 2200 cartons to protect all 2400 of the vines.  And, with weather rapidly approaching, it was clear that it was necessary to get the required protective cartons ASAP.  Thus with contract workers now idle (and still on the clock) we placed calls to vineyard supply stores all around the area, desperate to find the materials we needed before wind compromised the exposed vines.  At 2:30 PM we located a store in the next town over that was open for the next 30 min.  After a quick espresso, Joey and I booked it over to the shop, calling Zach to tell him the details as he had been on a delivery run for the tasting room and was headed back to the vineyard.  Joey and I arrived at the store at 2:50, and were greeted by the most happy-go-lucky salesmen alive.  This guy was truly high on life.  For those of you who watch the Simpsons, I would liken this man to Gil Gunderson the salesman (minus the fits of manic depression).  This guy was all “take my card,” “half off this and that” and “be sure to tell your friends that I’m in the area.”  Attempting to dispense with the pleasantries, Joey and I glad-handed this guy for 10 minutes or so, bought the necessary cartons and raced back to the vineyard where we met a confused-looking Zach.

The Salesman
The Salesman

Zach had arrived literately seconds after we had left to the sight of the contract workers packing up and shipping out, stating that they had another job they had to attend to.  Thus, with approaching weather and exposed vines, we now had nobody to help put the necessary cartons in place.  It was clear that the three of us could not finish the job before wind and rain arrived, so we went to the vineyard to asses the situation.  Fortunately, before shipping out, the workers had mounded dirt over the remaining graft unions, a protective measure that would temporarily protect the graft from damage (though it meant more work later to un-mound the dirt and attach the cartons).  Unfortunately, they had completely neglected a block of vines that needed to be tended to.  The three of us managed to install cartons just as the rain arrived, and all had a sigh of relief over a glass of  Tensley’s namesake Grenache.  It was truly one of the most exciting and enlightening afternoons of education.  Being present at the very beginning stages of vine/winemaking is an experience that cannot be described, and should be experienced by anyone who truly loves the art and science inherent in the making of wine.  I am looking forward to learning more about the techniques that go in to managing a developing vineyard, and cannot wait to share!!

Some Quick Specs if You Are Interested:

  • As mentioned, 2400 vines of Syrah 470 were planted which should be ready for harvest and vinification in 2 seasons.
  • Joey has 2 other sections of land on his property that he plans to establish vineyard blocks on next year.  One will house Grenache, and the other will be clones of Syrah from a particularly successful vineyard (Colson Canyon) with which he has worked in the past (is 2007 Syrah from CC received 99 point from Robert Parker!)
  • More information on Tensley’s specific wines (and some of the fantastic ratings he has received in the past) can be found at

http:// www.tensleywines.com/pastvintages1.html (check out the info on his Detente wines, its a really interesting gig).

****PLEASE PLEASE comment if you have any other questions or are curious about Tensley’s wines.  I will try to respond ASAP or sniff out an answer quick if I am unsure

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