What is in this article?:
- Cardella Ranch is a family-owned, 3,000-acre farm with two-thirds row crops and one-third permanent crops located near Mendota, Calif.
- The mix includes 1,000 acres of processing and fresh tomatoes, 500 acres of almonds, 300 acres of fresh-market onions, 150 acres of Pima cotton, and 500 acres of wine grapes.
- Ninety-eight percent of the grapes are sold to large wineries throughout California. Nathan Cardella crafts the remainder into estate wine.
- Cardella wines have earned 20-plus awards including gold medals for Sangiovese and Merlot at last year’s 2011 Finger Lakes (New York) International Wine Competition.
Despite the West Side water issues, the good news is higher yields gained in this area help offset water costs. Crop yields can average about 10 percent higher compared to the same crops grown elsewhere in the SJV.
“Our yield bar is about 10 percent higher yields across the board,” Cardella said. “Yet the problem remains — we don’t have a consistent supply of water.”
The yield boost pushes almond yields at Cardella Ranch into the 4,000-pounds-per-acre range annually. Cotton fields have 20 percent more cotton compared to other areas.
For wine grapes, 10 tons to 20 tons-per-acre is the average yield, depending on the year. A bumper crop can total 25 tons per acre.
Cardella grapes last year brought $450 per ton for Merlot, and $350 per ton for Ruby Cabernet and Sangiovese grapes.
Most Cardella estate wines are made from the family’s own grapes. Grapes are occasionally purchased from vineyards 10 miles away, but none from the Coast.
Pest and disease issues in grapes include leafhoppers, mites, powdery mildew, and bunch root — usually at low, controllable levels.
All grapes are grown on a two-wire vertical trellis with an 18-inch cross arm.
For grapes grown for the Cardella label, Cardella uses these grape-growing practices:
1 - Plant vines which like warm weather — most vines do.
2 - Do not over irrigate during the growing season.
3 - “Trim the fat” — remove unnecessary shoots or those growing in a poor position.
4 - Remove leaves in the fruit zone early in the season to increase sunlight penetration.
The latter method increases the canopy airflow which reduces powdery mildew pressure. It also allows more sunlight to penetrate the canopy. The canopy remains cools and creates less humidity which improves grape quality.
Cardella says his most important tool for estate wine is hand harvesting versus machine picking.
“As a small winemaker who doesn’t have the technology to sort everything at the winery, I sort the grapes in the vineyard,” Cardella said.
Mature fruit is picked with the right amount of sugar, tannin, color, and flavor.
“This takes my wine up a notch to compete with the guys doing the same practices in the more well-known California wine regions.”
Cardella estate wines sell for $12 to $20 a bottle. The best seller is Ruby Cabernet; second is Sangiovese.
Cardella says each California wine region has its own best varietal.
“The Napa area says it makes the best Cabernet Sauvignon, in the Paso Robles area it’s the best Syrah, and the Lodi area claims to make the best Zinfandel. The San Joaquin Valley makes the best Ruby Cabernet.”
Cardella concluded, “I am trying to create a product which I want the community to drink. We are not about getting rich from making wine. We want to create a sustainable living for the Cardella family for the future.”