Spring Mountain Vineyard found itself on the path to the vertical gobelet in 1994 when we considered how we would replant the vineyards around the Miravalle mansion. We wanted to do something different and found information in an old book about California horticulture in the late 19th century. We saw that the most common training method of the time was the gobelet.> Then we found evidence that Miravalle had been originally planted to a gobelet form of training at a vine spacing of 6 feet by 6 feet. Investigating further into the gobelet we were impressed by the amount of filtered light the vine structure allows into the vine interior.
Spring Mountain Vineyard decided to replant the twelve acres around the big house in the gobelet form at a six foot spacing. A four acre block was planted in 1994. It was planted to Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, each variety located in the block where the soils were most suitable. Drip irrigation was placed under the vines so that each variety could be watered separately and the vineyard could be cross cultivated. We planned to try to get the three varieties to ripen at the same time, so that they might be picked and fermented together as a field blend. But the vines were too vigorous and as the shoots grew out they flopped to the ground and eventually made access to the vineyard by tractor difficult. The method was going to work, but the six foot spacing was about a foot too close.
At about this time, Spring Mountain Vineyard was planning to replant significant acreage at Miravalle, Chevalier and La Perla . From winemaking experience on Spring Mountain We had seen the need to increase vine density on the new plantings in order to improve the quality of grapes. Spring Mountain Vineyard hired a consulting viticulturist, Lucie Morton, to go to France and look at hillside plantings that incorporated high density.
Lucies quest led her naturally to the Cotes du Rhone, the steep hillsides, to old and lean soils, and to the ancient vertical gobelet. Here winegrowing dates back to the 2nd century B.C. Note the photo by Lucie Morton of Les Bessards, AOC Hermitage. Of the photo, Lucie says, "a classic development, like the Romans knew how to do!"
With the help of Dr. Pierre Galet, Lucie visited these celebrated hillsides that are crowded with small individually-staked vines which were the anti-thesis of "modern California viticulture". We were indebted to the hospitality and openness of the Guigal family, the Chave family, the Chaleats, the Ferauds, and others. Lucie looked at farm machinery, weed control, pruning techniques and other solutions to common vineyard chores.
On these slopes some of the most wonderful and natural wines in the world are made. Here, occasionally, the horse is used to pull the plow on the precarious hillsides. Lucie concluded that the vertical gobelet could be effectively implemented in California and on Spring Mountain. As Lucie put it, Spring Mountain Vineyard had an opportunity to create something unique, "a vineyard that is at once brand new and very old."
The next step was to convert some of the existing gobelet vines at Miravalle to the vertical structure. This was not difficult, though the spurs had already been positioned a bit farther apart than was ideal. The system worked well. We were excited at how the structure solved the vigor problem in his six foot planting. ( It did so well that the four acre block has now been inter-planted to a three foot spacing within the rows.)
Vineyard replanting began in earnest in 1998. Over 20 acres of vertical gobelet were planted around the old La Perla Winery on a meter spacing at 4,050 vines per acre. About 60 acres have been replanted to the vertical gobelet at meter by meter and one half spacing, or 2700 vines per acre. About 20 acres remain at La Perla and 10 acres remain at Miravalle to be replanted. Because of the greater sunshine in California and their concern about back injuries from stooping by the vineyard worker, Spring Mountain does not train the vines as close to the ground as they are found in the Rhone. Spring Mountain feels that five good feet of vine shoot growth provides plenty of leaf area to ripen a few clusters per vine.
The first crop from the new vertical gobelet at La Perla was harvested on September 8, 2000. Spring Mountain Vineyard believes that September 8th will be, for them, the dawn of another age of viticulture on Spring Mountain. Viticulture that is at once new, and yet, very old.