The Arkenstone Story
We next met with consulting winemaker Philippe Melka, then a relatively recent transplant from Bordeaux. Coming from a background of geology, agronomy and enology, and working in the vineyards and wineries of some of the world’s great estates, Philippe had become an ardent advocate of the importance of terroir. Together we set about matching diverse soils, slopes, exposures, rootstocks, varietals and clones, to best realize the potential of the site. We strived to design vineyards whose diversity would match the breadth of conditions available on the property and whose fruit would provide a broad palate of complex flavors from which nuanced and layered Bordeaux blend wines could be crafted.
The physical realities of the property, although visually stunning, created many challenges in laying out and planting the vineyards. We were working with a range of 250 feet of elevation, exposures from Southeast clocking westward to due North and soil conditions that included volcanic Tufa, iron rich red clay, and abundant rocky areas. After considerable preparation, including exhuming numerous house sized piles of rocks (which are now included throughout the site in buildings and landscaping), we planted our first blocks in 1998. Over the next three years we completed planting just over 12 acres of vineyard. Due to the difficult growing conditions found at Arkenstone, it was a long and slow process to establish a stable, mature vineyard. Although the vines struggled to become established, the trade off was well worth it because once mature, these same conditions stress the vines to produce small, intensely flavored berries leading to well balanced, complex wines.
Because wine is made in the vineyards as much as in the winery, our vineyard management is extremely important. Every year we refine our wine growing practices in response to the unique qualities of each block. We pay close attention to the vineyard and have made changes to some of our early choices including switching out clones and varietals to ones better suited to their unique areas.
When we made the decision to take the next step into winemaking, it was with the certainty that this was a further expression of our land. Phillipe Melka consulted on our earliest winemaking blends, which we used to understand the potential of our wines and the expression of our terroir. In 2006 we welcomed Sam Kaplan on to the project as our winemaker. He is also our vineyard manager and collaborated extensively on our winery design and construction. Sam brings his own special palate and winemaking skills to the expression of Arkenstone. Our first release was Sam's first vineyard to bottle vintage at Arkenstone. We have been extremely pleased with the progress of our wines from young vines to our more mature vintages. From the earliest trials in 2001 to the barrel samples of today, a recognizable identity comes through. That, to us, is the true meaning of terroir. We also have seen that every vintage brings its own defining differences due to a variety of influences, which give interest and a sense of expectation for each new release.
Begun in 2005, the development of our winery and cave was the next step in our winemaking commitment. This new facility, set amongst our vineyards, allows us to have more control over every phase of winemaking. Our crush pad and fermentation hall had their initiation during crush of 2008. Harvest of 2009 saw completion of the cave, which in addition to fermentation halls and barrel storage, contains labs, workrooms, and hospitality areas. Our tasting room, offices, and case storage facilities will surround the crushpad and are anticipated to be completed by early 2011.
We made a decision at the beginning to go slowly and carefully in our development of this project in order to maintain and nurture the native plant and animal species, and respect the contours of the land. Our vineyards have been farmed organically, starting with our very first planted vine and we are constantly learning and implementing new techniques for building up organic material in the soil, including crop covers and composting. We are also planning for and putting measures in place to help make the entire project more sustainable in terms of materials, energy and water usage. Much of the property is the way it was when we first saw it and there is still a sense of discovery as you hike through vineyard, forest and meadow. We welcome old friends as well as new visitors to Arkenstone. Come and taste our wine and share in the beauty of our Howell Mountain retreat. Tours and tastings are by appointment, so please schedule your visit in advance. Also, please join our mailing list so we can keep you updated on our wines, events and progress on the winery.
Ron and Susan Krausz