At Washington Wine Blog we have been able to bring you some cool winemaker interviews but I wanted to shift gears into vineyard management. Lacey Lybeck is the vineyard manager at Sagemoor Vineyards. She has a background in crop science, attaining her bachelor’s degree at WSU before focusing solely on vineyard management. Before coming to Sagemoor, Lacey worked at St. Michelle Wine Estates and Milbrandt Vineyards. She has a very large job being the vineyard manager at the esteemed Sagemoor Vineyards, as she began the job in July 2015. For those who are not as familiar with the collection of vineyards, Sagemoor Vineyards, is comprised of Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau, Sagemoor and Gamache, and was founded in 1968. The vineyards there were first planted in 1972. Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are still producing high quality fruit from those plantings. There are now 18 wine varietals grown at Sagemoor Vineyards and a huge number of Washington wineries source from this farm, including Rasa, Long Shadows, Chateau St. Michelle and many others. Many wineries are producing vineyard designated wines from these vineyards. I recently had the chance to sit down with Lacey and talk wine. She was a delight to speak with, as I could feel her passion and dedication to the vineyards. Here is my interview with Lacey Lybeck, Vineyard Manager of Sagemoor Vineyards.
WWB: How did you first gain interest in vineyard management?
LL: I grew up in a farm family in Western Washington, working on the farm in the summers. After going to WSU and having a class in crop science and growing I caught the wine bug. Each week of the class covered a different crop, learning about raspberries and blueberries and others. There was one week that focused on wine grapes and they had a vineyard manager come up and talk about how her role was to manage and look after these three acres and produce the best quality out of any given circumstances in a year. It is not about yield and producing as much as you can. It is about this beautiful craft, producing the crop that goes into the hand of someone who makes a beautiful wine that is shared on dinner tables and with friends and family.
I was first hired on at Sagemoor in June of 2015. Derek Way had been with the company and he changed directions and moved to China. He gave me the opportunity to step in and work with a fantastic team. It is a dream job for me. When I was on my second day I had the chance to taste unique wines from separate blocks from Dionysus Vineyard. Wines from a place and the idea of terroir was something that before that experience I thought about regionally. Like the wines from the Wahluke Slope tastes different than Red Mountain. I had tasted that, but trying block 11 at Dionysus, for example, a site that has a nice hillside with a southern aspect; The way that the rows orient is a bit off east/west. This produces an amazing blueberry characteristic which you can taste in the wines. Each winemaker will have a unique wine from that block but there is always a blueberry pie or blueberry jam note. Whereas 16A, another block at Dionysus, more windblown sandy soils and is closer to the bluff on the Columbia River, retains more cassis and red fruit notes. It just amazing to taste the berries in the field the red fruit as it progresses and relate back to that second day of tasting the wines. Even our viticulture is adjusted to preserve what the block does best. Some winemakers love 16A and then other winemakers use it and then the red fruit doesn’t fit their style.
WWB: What are the challenges with growing such a wide range of varietals at Sagemoor Farms?
LL: We grow about 18 varieties right now. We have Bordeaux, Rhone, some Italian varieties and it is getting to know each variety for what it is. Each one is so unique. When I walk into a block I have to take in what the block is telling me in that day to be able to execute the best in the season. We grow a lot of different blocks of Cabernet but each one reacts differently depending on vine age, trellis style, terrior, clone. We work closely with our winemakers to shape their wine style in the vineyard.
WWB: Lets talk about the 2015 vintage for red and white wines. This was a vintage marred by heat spikes during the summer during what was generally a normal growing season. Can you talk about how the weather that year influenced red and white varietals?
LL: In 2015, the heat was a big part of the story. In 2013 the heat surprised us, in 2014 we made some adjustments and saw how the vines reacted. 2015 was a hot year early and leaf protection was really key, but we had practice in the years prior. That was an awesome year for the Indian Wells style of Chardonnay produced at Weinbau Vineyard. We were able to protect the fruit from the heat. We had a little less fruit on the vine. It was all about winemakers coming into the vineyard and making their picking decisions without looking at the calendar.
WWB: I’ve spoken to many Washington winemakers about the 2016 vintage and they are very excited about the harvest and the fruit that has come in. What are your initial thoughts about the 2016 vintage and the long growing season?
LL: We came back from Taste of Washington and things were a full two weeks ahead. This was a process of reading the plants, not the calendar to lead farming decisions. We had to prioritize some varieties like Merlot, which canopy development took off while other varieties like Cabernet, were slower to develop. We produced some really nice Sauvignon Blanc from Bacchus Vineyards in 2016. I like that each winemaker leaves their own mark on grapes from the same vineyard.
We had a condensed harvest. The window winemakers harvest in a block would typically stretch out as much as a month between the first winemaker picking and then the last. Harvest timing depends largely on the winemaker’s style. This year we had 7-10 days between the first pick and the latest. When grapes were ripe they were definitely ready to go. 2016 was a year I was so happy to be sending winemakers nicely balanced fruit in terms of having the nice natural acidity, great pheolic development and even sugar development. 20116 was marked with rolling weather patterns, one day the temperature would spikes around 100 degrees then a few cooler days around 80 degrees would follow. Adjusting irrigation during these heat spikes was key, too much water and your canopy can shade the clusters and inhibit the density of the wine and its color. Too little water and your risked loosing leaves on the bottom of the canopy and exposing fruit to sunburn. Reading the plants and the soil water profile was key to implementing reduced deficit irrigation.
WWB: What are some of your favorite red and white Washington wines that come out of Sagemoor Farms?
LL: I love Sparkman’s Birdie for whites. Riesling doesn’t get enough love. Sparkman chooses to pick their Bacchus Riesling at two dates. The earlier pick has a bit less sugar, more mineral flavors and acitiy. The Later pick gives a beautiful bouquet of fruit and citrus. Chris is then able to blend the two lots into one white wine that has amazing complexity and minimal intervention. This wine is an interesting marriage of the work we do in the vineyard and building the blend right in the field. Red wine, I am honored to work with Long Shadows. These winemakers have their hands in fruit from all around the world. I love working with Karen Buckingham of Sol Stone, she makes a Grenache from Weinbau that is wonderful. Barrister in Spokane, Blizzard Wines in Willamette Valley, Boudreaux in Leavenworth… With over 100 wineries working with our fruit is makes it really challenging to pick favorites!