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Noble Rock Vineyard
TOPOGRAPHY AND THE ROCKS DISTRICT OF MILTON-FREEWATER AVA
Noble Rock Vineyard is located four miles east and slightly north of Cougar Hills Vineyard. The land here is relative flat and occupies five acres. Being closer to the Blue Mountains this vineyard would be expected to get more rainfall than Cougar Hills, but this is not the case. The elevation is slightly higher than Cougar Hills, which is expected because the further west you go, you eventually end up at sea level. Noble Rock is in the newly established “The Rocks of Milton-Freewater” AVA. It is a sub-appellation of the Walla Walla Valley. The main distinguishing characteristic that sets this AVA apart from the rest of the Walla Walla Valley is the rocky soil. Round river rock from ancient river beds spread across this area in fan shaped alluvial deposits that saturate the soil profile from the surface to way below the plant roots.
Noble Rock is the family home of the Hansen family. Living in the middle of a vineyard keeps you connected to farming as nothing else can. It also leaves you with a closet full of dirty boots! This land was originally founded as a vineyard in the 1920’s. Dr. Golden was a medical doctor who built the Colonial Dutch style home and grew grapes and made wine during Prohibition for “medicinal purposes”. There are many people in their 80’s and 90’s today who can tell stories of their youthful experiences with his wine, including Dave’s father. It appears that Dr. Golden not only had a thriving medical practice, but he may have also been the only winery in Walla Walla during prohibition! When Dave’s parents were alive his mother was fond of telling the story of Dave’s dad’s first experience with wine made here in the 1930’s. Unfortunately in 1948 and 1949 there were back to back years of harsh winters that killed the vines planted by Dr. Golden. After that the land was used for tomatoes, apples, and now it is back to grapes. The estate has been in our family now since 1980.
The first thing you notice is the abundant river rock on the surface of the vineyard mixed with Ritzville loam, the round river rock goes as deep as you care to dig. Rock and gravel are important features in the soil of our vineyards. They keep the soil from compacting and maintain good water drainage. Controlling the water supplied to the grapes is one of the most important factors for quality. Like Cougar Hills, this land was also completely underwater during the Bretz Floods.
There are two varietals planted at Nobel Rock, Syrah and Viognier. The difference in soil composition makes a surprising difference to the flavors in the finished wine. The rocky soil expresses itself most notably in the Syrah, bringing out more of the savory flavors as opposed to the fruity flavors. Earthy, gamey, soy, and smoky are typically descriptors. Sometimes these differences are emphasized by making single block, vineyard designated wine, but the wine is also appreciated for the complexity it brings to blending.
As with the other vineyards, the row orientation is north-south, and the vine training is vertical shoot positioning. The rocky, rapidly draining soil here means less water retention and in general the canopy doesn’t grow as vigorously as at Cougar Hills.
GROUND COVER AND IRRIGATION.
We use the same slow growing grass for ground cover as at Cougar Hills. Irrigation is extremely important here as the soil has a much lower water retention ability due to all the rocks. Each of the vineyards has to be monitored individually for water needs, especially during the months of July and August. This rocky ground increases the frequency of irrigation required.
We have two weapons at Noble Rock for fighting frost. First is our wind machine, and in the springtime, irrigation water. At night Dave set’s his frost alarm to go off early, so he has time to take care of starting the wind machine at Noble Rock before he heads out to Cougar Hills.
Always vigilant about our long term effect on the land, we follow the same careful methods at Noble Rock as our other vineyards.