When the Cabernet Sauvignon blocks were put in, Jim and the crew started hauling out piles of a distinctive blue/green rock known as Serpentine, along with Chert and other quartz. Looking up the definition of Chert, Jim found: "Chert is a common surface rock that is often a headache to farmers and gardeners as they try to work the soil." After hundreds of tons, it was easy to see why. Serpentine, also called Serpentinite, forms from the alteration of oceanic mantle rocks. It happens that northern California's Coast Ranges are full of just that kind of material, carried by plate motions against the North American plate and pushed onto the continent, where the delicate rock type is preserved. It is also California's state rock.
The Brignole family was part of the Asti Swiss Colony wine collective and had planted a classic Italian field-blend of grapes on the property in 1908. Planted just seven feet apart, the vine rows were worked with horses and mules, evidenced by numerous horseshoes kicked up during seasonal chores. Primarily vigorous pre-Prohibition Zinfandel vines, there are also Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, and Carignane red grapes, along with just a few vines of whites, Muscato Canelli, Palomino and Golden Chasslis. The concept of white grapes scattered in amongst the red has been debated for a while now. Were they for eating or did they add something to the red wine? The answer is most definitely one of wine chemistry, and there are examples in both French and Italian winemaking of whites blended into red for color stabilization. The field-blend planting just handled this in the simplest form, when the grapes were harvested. Jim has enjoyed studying the history of the vineyard and identifying the grapes, some archaic and one still a mystery. It even stumped the famous wine master Andre Tschelicheff, who visited Jim with a group from Simi Winery. Simi and Gallo purchased the grapes for a few seasons early on.