Hudson Ranch, Napa, Carneros
Graphite & Ink on Paper
Hudson Ranch, Napa, Carneros
Graphite & Ink on Paper
Hudson Ranch rambles across 2,000 acres of the Carneros region of the Napa Valley. No single vantage gives you a sense of the whole of it – you have to walk the land to know it, to meet its unknown corners and little-seen inhabitants. Of the 2,000 acres a mere 200 are under vines, with vineyard blocks representing twenty different varietals, some tucked like secret gardens into the foothills.
Another scant three acres make up the heirloom vegetable garden – the rest is wild. These uncultivated uplands are pure, native California, home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, from bobcats to brush rabbits and blue-bellied lizards. Up in these hills, Coastal Live Oak and her many sisters – the Blue, the Black and the Valley Oak – fold into contours and spread upward, while thewy, red-trunked Madrones and Manzanitas run through them like veins.
The oaks are the forest’s dowsers, finding water where it’s scarce, growing up to 85 feet tall if they luck upon a well. In the autumn, chanterelles cluster at their sodden feet like loyal subjects, while drought-resistant bunchgrasses make a billow of the understory, silvering the hillsides. In the summer, lacy white yarrow and bright sticky-monkey flower scatter through the grasses hosting bees, hummingbirds and Checkerspot butterflies.
Perhaps the most conspicuous resident of Hudson Ranch is the majestic Pileated Woodpecker, among the biggest, most striking forest birds native to North America. The Pileated Woodpecker’s obsidian plumage is marked by bold white stripes that run up his long neck meeting at the top of his head, a crown of crimson comb that sweeps into a triangular crest off his back.
His syncopated drumming – the deep, slow, rolling and heavy chopping sound of foraging – can be heard throughout the woods. In the half-hollow chambers of the dead trees known to harbor insects he hopes he’ll find his favorite prey: the carpenter ant. In his wake he leaves a cipher, a unique inscription of rectangular holes chiseled into a fallen tree, like the work of some mystical sculptor, or a vandal, or both.
On a walk one early autumn morning during harvest, as he was passing through the “Widow Maker’s block” – named for a towering dead Valley Oak left standing for the birds – Lee Hudson heard the “CLUCK CLUCK CLUCK” of the Pileated Woodpecker. In undulating flight the bird came toward where Lee stood between rows of ripe Syrah, scheduled to be picked the very next day, and landed high up in the skeletal branches of the nearby Widow Maker. There, he resumed the staccato of his territorial drumming. From his position concealed in the vines, Lee watched as the bird cocked his head this way and that, as if stretching demonstratively before a brawl.
Suddenly, the bird sailed from the tree to the root of a Syrah vine not twenty feet away. He looked to the right, then to the left, and like a mountain climber scaling a vertical face, moved foot over foot to ascend the trunk until he reached the fruit. With the surety of an expert, that Pileated Woodpecker plucked a single, perfectly ripe Syrah berry from the cluster before him. Again he cocked his head to the right and to the left, the spherical berry balanced in his beak, and, as if he were looking directly at the man who’d laid claim to this land, seemed to say, “No, no. These belong to me.”
Dr. Fanny Singer
Dr. Eldridge and Judith Moores
Late last spring we stumbled across this fossil buried deep in the volcanic soil of the Old Master block. We took this beautiful rust-hued cluster of petrified scallop shells dating 10–15 million years ago as evidence that we are in fact connected to the past. This extraordinary specimen reminded us of the millennia-long history of Hudson Ranch. Far from rendering our work insignificant, we feel that our awareness of this history, our respect for the tectonic collisions and geological phenomena that shaped this place, lend this wine-growing labor a certain gravitas. As this land’s present stewards, the changes we make—ever-conscious of history and place—will endure for a time, and then, perhaps, will become the fossils that future generations will discover.
Just four miles north of the San Pablo tidal estuary’s tangle of saltwater sloughs, Hudson Ranch stretches languidly across 2,000 acres of the Carneros region of the Napa Valley. From its aquaphilic southern hem to its northeastern reaches—which stray perilously into the Carneros fault zone—this land defies categorization. Across its expanse, it represents at least ten distinct geological zones; it’s no wonder such a diverse array of flora and fauna call Hudson Ranch home.
While only 200 acres of our 2,000 are under vines (we preferto leave the rest up to the wild), we sell the majority of our fruit every harvest to some of Napa’s finest wineries. It is said that Hudson Ranch’s unique character, and rigorously sustainable practices, produce some of the best fruit available in the Napa Valley. What we hold back, to make into wine under the Hudson name, is some of the most lovingly-tended and exceptional fruit we grow. Our vineyard blocks, which represent twenty different varietals, are virtually sown into the wilderness—some so small and tucked away they feel like hidden gardens.
One of these, the Old Master block, is Hudson Ranch’s most prized vineyard. It wasn’t always so, however it took a lot of time and patience to understand what the site, the terroir, was telling us. Well before we planted the Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines whose fruit we blend to make our Old Master wine, we’d been struggling to make Pinot Noir vines happy there. In 1999, we admitted defeat, pulled out the Pinot and started from scratch, this time listening keenly to what the land had to say.
Because the Old Master block is more like two different vineyards, with two distinct soil types, we needed to find grapes that crave inherently different conditions, but could live in harmony. These turned out to be Merlot, which thrives on Huichica formation soil, rich in alluvial, bay and river deposits, and Cabernet Franc, which loves the well-drained, rocky Sonoma volcanic soils that spread across the other half of the block. Though Cabernet Franc is notoriously difficult to please, our years of experience—and our humility in the face of what nature can teach us have helped us to coax the very best fruit from these vines: a small and controlled yield that produces rich, brambly, exotic and aromatic wine. Likewise, we’ve learned that our Merlot flourishes on clay-rich soil and requires plenty of air flow, especially in our cool Carneros climate—our pruning is scrupulous and rewards us with wine redolent of stewed Bing cherries.
Through our trials and errors we began to make more holistic decisions. Decisions based on studying and listening and testing and walking and reading. It takes years-decades, even of field experience to understand a site, and to be able to intuit which varietal is best suited to a certain patch of land. Finally, we felt we were beginning to understand the question of terroir, the beautiful outcome of turning grapes into wines that are perfect expressions of both climate and soil.
Hudson Vineyard Pruning Shears
Dr. Fanny Singer
Every year it takes 220 hours of human labor to work an acre of our vineyards. At Hudson Vineyards we have a full-time crew of sixteen. These sixteen people are integral to our operation — they are our literal backbone — and it is because of their highly-skilled work that our wines have the quality of flavor we have come to expect from our distinctive Napa Valley terroir.
In the fall, after harvest, the most sleepless time of year for any viticulturist, the annual work cycle at Hudson Vineyards begins. There are all kinds of things to take care of: cultivating, composting, ripping, seeding, pruning and tying–the list goes on and on. But it’s the assiduous grooming of the vines that distinguishes what we do at Hudson Vineyards.
Still, this grooming is hardly the extent of the tender care each vine receives––the trellises, which have been maintained and repaired throughout the year, are readied for the growth of the first inquisitive little shoots in the Spring. As the vines begin to claim the trellises, hedging comes into play: deft shaping of each plant to engender uniform growth and maximum access to sunlight. The chopping of green manure, mowing, disking, head suckering, base suckering, and leafing is work that is done by hand by a team of our most trusted employees. It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that each vine gets the creative attention of a Rodin sculpture.
As Summer takes hold and the fruit begins to cluster the crop load requires reduction to take it down to our theoretical ideal — the more is not the merrier: only the most perfect fruit passes muster. Which is why our team’s vigilant crop adjustments to avoid the bunching or touching
of clusters, or to drop the growth of green fruit is so essential to the process. All of this painstaking work is what reduces any variability in the quality of the harvest and ensures we bring the absolute best fruit into the winery.
Which brings us back to harvest––that most auspicious moment in the wine-growing year. Most nights we begin picking around midnight under lights to guarantee our delivery of cool fruit to the winery by 5:00 in the morning. A single person in our harvest crew can handpick 1 ½ tons of grapes in a shift, while eight people, or a cuadrilla, harvest up to twelve tons in that time. That volume is nothing short of miraculous, and is the outcome of work performed at speeds that would dazzle a hummingbird.
The people who perform this work are truly skilled. There is no other way to describe the sensitivity and nuance of their actions, the perfectly choreographed economy of their movements. We are honored to work with such an extraordinary team. Which is why we are taking this opportunity to acknowledge their work, to say thank you to the people who make our vineyards what they are. Because any winemaker worth their salt will tell you that you can do all you want to try to manipulate the product once you’ve got it in barrel, but a great wine is truly made out in the vineyard.
Lucielle’s Vineyard, Hudson Ranch
For forty years Hudson has foraged heritage selections of chardonnay from historic vineyards throughout California. These carefully chosen selections have been propagated on our ranch in an effort to honor diversity. We prize these grapes for their intense mineralogy and distinctive flavor. We feel our wines represent the most honest representation of our site, intent and endeavor.