Spring Mountain: Cain Vineyard

Cain Vineyard & Winery was one of many hosts during Touch the Terroir. Chris Howell, manager and winemaker, along with his team entertained the large group of participants at the winery for the reception and dinner. It was a great chance to meet everyone and share Spring Mountain Wines.

Chris Howell, manager and winemaker of Cain, looking over the vines.

Cain Vineyard was also one of the wineries that we were able to spend time at during harvest. Our day started with a vineyard tour of a portion of the 550 acre ranch. 90 acres are currently planted to vineyards, with much of the property dense with trees. The majority of their grapes had already been harvested, with several blocks remaining. We walked through the rows of Cabernet vines with Chris Howell, Ashley Anderson-Bennett, vineyard manager and Ouzo ( the winery dog), inspecting the grapes’ ripeness.

We learned a trick to help determine how ripe a grape is off of the vine; if the flesh peels away from the seed easily, the grape is ripe, if you have to suck the pulp off the seed and skin with your tongue, it isn’t ready to pick.

At Cain, La Piedra in the distance, surrounded by Cabernet Sauvignon.
The journey to La Piedra.
Ouzo admiring the view from La Piedra.

The undulating rows that bow and dip across the hillside provide pockets of more fertile soil. A grape tasted from a dip will be more plump than a grape from the same vine, 20 yards away on a peak. There are also varying ripeness within the clusters, a grape at the bottom of the cluster can ripen quicker than a grape in the centre or top of the cluster.  It is also interesting to taste the difference in flavour of grapes with different exposures to the sun. Whole clusters will look entirely different depending on whether they are on the east or west side of the vine.

Ashley, vineyard manager at Cain, imparting her wisdom as we sample many grapes.
Cabernet that was scheduled to be harvested in the next several days.

We were given the opportunity to harvest several rows of Cab Franc with the crew at Cain. Armed with a glove, bin and pruning sheers we made our way down rows of Cabernet Franc.  It would be a painfully long harvest if amateurs were left to pick the grapes by hand. The experienced crew at Cain flew down the rows, completing about 4 rows/1 tonne in less than 30 minutes. They probably would have been faster if we weren’t there to get in their way!

Cain is experimenting with biodynamic farming, and has restricted this block of Cab Franc to strict biodynamic practices. Ashley says she is not 100% convinced of the benefits, but notes that there are positive differences.

1 tonne of Cabernet Franc en route to the winery.

Another interesting factor to consider when visiting a vineyard, is the type of vegetation that surrounds the vineyards. Near the Cabernet Sauvignon, there is large California bay trees, with bay leaves that are quite strong in aroma and flavour. Similar to the herbs and brush that grows wild in Provence and Rhone, or the eucalyptus in McLaren Vale, the vegetation around the vineyards in Napa impart their qualities on the wines.

Ashley and Francois inspecting the fermenting grapes.
One of the large steel tanks undergoing a pump-over.
The barrel room at Cain.

We met associate winemaker François Bugué at the winery, where we inspected the grapes at different points in their fermentation. The winery team was busy with pump-overs, circulating the liquid from the bottom of the tank to the top. The juice flows through the cap of skins, increasing colour, tannins and flavours. The barrel room was also full of action!

Sampling different wines/grape juice and measuring sugar levels.

We tasted grape juice prior to fermentation, during fermentation and as a finished product. Although the wine is a product of the grapes and terroir, there are many people involved in the process of making a great wine!

Look out for very limited exclusive of Cain Five on Tannic next week!