Garage Enologists of North County

Sonoma County, California

GENCO GEM:  Rod & Pat Larrick

One of our most experienced GENCO GEMS, Rod made his first batch of wine from Muscat grapes in 1978 with a disappointing end point:  vinegar.  We would all agree that he has come a very long way, now boasting a sparkling track record of growing grapes for 25 years as well as years of winning awards for most wines he enters into competition!

Rod, and his lovely wife, Pat, both San Francisco natives, early on lived in Menlo Park, followed by a few years in Santa Rosa before moving to Healdsburg.  Rod worked for HP/Agilent as an electrical engineer, and Pat was a secretary at the California Dept of Forestry headquarters in Santa Rosa.   It is fun to know that Pat’s business colleague was Bruce Hagen who was also starting to make wine at the time.  Their friendship with Linda and Bruce ultimately resulted in sharing a wonderful hobby of growing grapes (Rod), as well as crafting many bottles of award winning wine.

Rod had always enjoyed wine, and long ago developed a desire to move to Sonoma County.  In 1983, through an incredible trade, the Larricks swapped their home in Menlo Park for a beautiful 27-acre property off of West Dry Creek that boasted six acres of potential vineyard. They settled temporarily in Santa Rosa to be near the action.

With luck, the property had vineyards around it, as well as good topsoil that supported an old prune orchard.   It goes without saying, that it also supported an impressive supply of poison oak and blackberries.  First things first, the Larricks built a house in 1985, moved into it in 1986, and in 1987 started actions in preparation towards farming.

 Becoming a Farmer:

Rod began his farming career by hiring people to get the soil “ready” for planting.  This included ripping the flat field on the property to a four-foot depth and amending it with gypsum, nitrogen and potassium.   Ready to go in 1990, he recruited his family to start planting their first vineyard, 3 acres of Chardonnay on primarily 5C rootstock.  After completing row one on a very hot day, they escaped to Memorial Beach for a nice cool swim.

No surprise, it was a quick decision that the time had arrived to hire professional planters. He appreciates his fortune to find a good crew to plant the remainder of the vineyard properly. Another project took place in 1995, when Alan Nelson and Son engineered and beautifully terraced the hillside below their home, thus paving the way for planting the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard.

Something many guys can relate to, Rod always wanted to own boy toys such as a tractor, and his time had arrived!  He now had the need and the room to store them, and the first tractor he proudly acquired was an antique Caterpillar 15. Later additions include a Lamborghini 650 tracklayer and a Ford model 1920 wheel tractor with loader along with flail mower and discs.  His Kawasaki Mule is the grandkids’ favorite to run around the fields. Lucky them!

Growing and Selling Grapes:

The Larrick’s grow organically and manage their vineyard with help. No longer growing Chardonnay, they grow Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel. Rod has experienced the usual frustrations of frost loss, vine disease, drought, and bird and deer damage, and appreciates crop insurance that has helped cover bad years like 2015! 

He believes that switching to vertical trellising, and from cordon pruning to cane pruning, as well as composting each year, were his best decisions in an effort to grow higher quality grapes and more plentiful crops.
 

Rod finds weed control on his hillside cabernet sauvignon his most frustrating duty, and spraying for mildew is the least fun (especially when he got up at 5 a.m. to do it before going to work.) His greatest rewards of farming are to look down the rows and admire a good heavy crop just before harvest) as well as to sell his grapes to wineries that make a great bottle of wine with his fruit!

Rod also advises the good judgment of recognizing when to get help when needed and to keep in touch with known buyers and field representatives.

Pat and Rod’s first sale was in 1993 to Phyllis Zouzounis, who was then the winemaker at Mazzocco, and they also have sold to Kendal Jackson and Clos du Bois.  Currently, all of their grapes go to Moshin and Hobo wineries, and some are fortunate enough to find their way to Hagen’s Hero’s wine group.

Moshin Winery carries the Larrick Vineyard designation on their Sauvignon Blanc label, and Rod’s Cabernet grapes go into their highest priced wine.   Hobo Winery is very happy to get Larrick Zinfandel grapes for their Dry Creek Valley blend.  

Guidance for Others:

Rod’s immediate reaction when asked, “What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a vineyard was the following: “Do it… start small, possibly, but go for it!” 

Upon reflection, however, he stated the following key factors to think about.  They are:

 1.  Your age:  After 25 years of hands-on growing and his time somewhat tied to the vineyard, Rod has found the adventure rewarding. That being said, he is also looking forward to passing on the vineyard responsibility to others.

  2.  Decide on the level of your participation vs. the cost of hiring.

 3.  Size of the vineyard.   Developing a vineyard is an 8 to 10 year project from ground breaking to the years of good quality fruit production.  Vineyards larger than 2 to 3 acres probably will require extra help with pruning, canopy work, etc.  Vineyard size also comes into the picture if you want to sell commercially.  Most wineries want at least 5 tons of fruit, an amount that can be produced in Rod’s opinion from approximately 2 acres for good fruit. 

 4.  Vineyard location. This also has an influence on desirability and production.  

Winemaking:

Rod began making wine regularly in 1983, with his first adventure being a Chenin Blanc.  He has made all varietals except Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris, and has bought his grapes from quality vineyards he could locate. In one year he made four varietals and, in another, collaborated with 3 families to make 300 gallons. Wow—serious production for a Garage Enologist! 

To learn about wine making and vineyard management, Rod took enology and viticulture classes at UC Davis and Santa Rosa JC, including classes taught by Rich Thomas and Stuart Smith (Smith Madrone Winery) in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  He enjoyed repeating the classes four to six times because it was a great source of information as well as meeting other winemakers, both amateur and professional. 

Back in the ‘80s and new to the job at Hewlett Packard, Rod met Carmine Indindoli who memorably announced: “You want to learn to make wine?…Show up here at 8 a.m.  We will pick, crush and press my Chardonnay and make it into a very drinkable wine!”  Carmine, Bob Bennett, and Bruce Hagen have been among Rod’s mentors who were encouraging and made the task fun!

Rod ‘s answers to many questions were:

  • Brix he likes to pick at:  SB-23, Cab-25, Zin-24
  • Cold soaking:  Yes, one of the best and newer techniques of good wine making, mainly for red wines.

  • Oak:  Very important, and uses both good American and French oak in 30 or 60 gallon barrels.  He uses oak cubes at times, but finds inferior results when using chips or cubes compared to barrels.

  • Takes wine out of the oak source “when wine tastes too oaky.”  States that oak generally dies with time in an over-oaked wine.

  • Filters or fines Cab or Zin:  Whites need isinglass or bentonite and occasionally plate or cartridge filtering to give good clarity, mouth feel and taste.   Red wine is improved with egg white fining.

  • Most important learning to make better wine: Cleanliness, and to “stay on top of stuff,” such as topping off and adding sulfur, and getting good, clean barrels.

  • Advice to somebody just starting to make wine: Use the best fruit you can find.   Make a batch with someone such as Bob Bennett, who knows the ropes, as well as read and follow the GENCO notes given to us in 2014…they are extremely useful!

  • Best deals on equipment: Shop around on the web, as well as at Napa Fermentation, Beverage People in Santa Rosa, and More Wine in Walnut Creek, plus consult GENCO references. 

  • Best deals in general:  Web, GENCO, Friends

  • Sources for bottles: Wineries  (overstocked after bottling), All American Containers in Windsor.

  • Corks:  Most artificial corks are acceptable.  More Wine Co. has plastic as well as Grades 1, 2, and 3 traditional corks.
  • Best way to educate your palate:  “Go to GENCO meetings and to other tastings.   Taste, taste, taste.  Help out at amateur judging at S.R. Harvest Fair:   It is getting harder to find bad wines, but there will certainly be a wide range of ‘good to not so good’ in all varietals. “  Also, “after helping in the back room, tasting is encouraged after the judging.”

  • Biggest disaster:  Barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc that oxidized and turned brown (Acetobacter –better known as a vinegar result).  The wine sadly returned to the ground via a garden hose!  
  • Most important equipment to own: crusher, pumps, bottle filler, corker and good barrels.  Likes to share with others a press and steam cleaner.  Has his own lab equipment for testing pH and SO2.

Rod recently completed an entire winery room for his winemaking and equipment, including a sloped concrete pad from the road to accommodate truck access to the crusher.  (See attached pictures)

Awards:

Rod has many winemaking successes to be proud of.  He received the prestigious Golden Bung award for his 1998 Zin in the Dry Creek Valley commercial and amateur Zin Taste-Off.   He believes some of his most recent bests were his 2011 Cabernet: Best of Class Sonoma County Harvest Fair, his GENCO Best of Class for Cabernet 2012, and Best of Show: GENCO 2012 Zin.  He is most proud of the ’12 Zin because the oak and fruit are in good balance, and it “tastes wonderful!”  Rod also got the GENCO Best of Show 2015 for a Portuguese varietal blend, “Tres Vivas 2013”.

An “interesting” wine judging experience:  Rod re-entered his 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon into the Sonoma County Harvest Fair after receiving a no metal judgment in 2014, with comments that it was “sour and poorly made.”  He personally thought it was pretty good as were GENCO judging comments!  Upon reentry in the SC Harvest Fair 2015, it was re-judged with a Silver Metal! “Hmmmmmm!”

Rod’s biggest “accident” was also a success! “P & P,” a favorite that resulted when he accidentally poured together and bottled Pinot Noir and Zin 2/3 and 1/3, respectively, mistakenly thinking that they were the same thing when topping off with “Pinot Noir.” The result? “It tasted great…A good picnic coiffing wine chilled or at room temperature!”

It is abundantly evident that Rod has thoroughly enjoyed his winemaking endeavors. He has no regrets, and loves working with wine and doing blending or whatever is needed to take his product from a  “hard wine” to “tame,” or from a  “rough state to great.”  As Rod says in a great quote that many can relate to, “I truly believe grape growing and making wine is an art form that keeps one connected with nature, and also connected to good people!”

That says it all, Rod!

 

John and Carol

Article VI - April 8, 2016    

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