Architect of the Land

Mark Neal has been building vineyards in much of the North Coast since he was a kid. There is an astounding amount of planning and decision-making for each area of land that results in the high quality wines that consumers drink today. 

Mark Neal’s winemaking philosophy is that great wines are produced from the soils within a vineyard. He prides himself on architecting each vineyard, row by row, utilizing decades of farming and winemaking experience to create the best expression of each varietal, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. He believes organic and biodynamic farming practices enhance each vineyard’s inherent and distinctive qualities, resulting in each wine’s ultimate flavor profile. 

Many consumers and critics typically look only to winemakers as the heroes, artists, and creators of all great wines, not entirely understanding what needs to be architected in the vineyard to grow the grapes that make outstanding wine. Although winemakers have an incredible responsibility to turn fruit into wine, the farmers have equal, if not more, responsibility to grow the best grapes. Wineries can only make great wine out of great fruit, so it all starts with the land. 

Here are just a few of the factors that go into architecting  a world-class wine producing vineyard:

  • Soil studies (chemistry, nematodes, boron, water, etc.)
  • Is the land raw and unfarmed? Raw land involves conversion and harvesting plans.
  • Was the land a vineyard before?
  • Where is the vineyard located? Every county has different rules and regulations.
  • Water and biological studies
  • Archeological studies
  • Preservation concerns
  • Endangered species studies
  • Varietal choice and rootstock choice
  • Row direction and sun aspect
  • Hillside complexity
  • Clone choice (heavier or lighter for the preferred style of wine)
  • Patience! It takes on average ten years to go from raw land to a bottled Cabernet Sauvignon

With Mark’s decades of experience turning land into prestigious vineyards around Napa and Sonoma county, we share this podcast offering  a bit of insight into what it takes to begin the process of building a great vineyard. This voice recording features Mark and his daughter, Jessica, as they visit clients’ vineyards around St. Helena in Napa Valley. They discuss the timeline for building a vineyard and what factors a farmer has to consider in planning a vineyard. 

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