I suppose rather than calling this a “Harvest Update,” I should probably call this a “Harvest Recap.” Why the semantics, you may ask? We actually finished picking and crushing last Thursday, a full day before the rains! But that’s merely circumstantial weather/timing information. What you probably are more interested in is my overall feeling for the harvest.
Well, the highlights are, production was down, acid levels were high, maturity was extremely uniform, and quality exceptionally exciting (especially given the challenging weather this year!).
But let’s step back a second here and talk about how we were all feeling just a couple of months ago in August. In all honesty, we were so far behind in our ripening that I was fearful that we would be able to harvest everything (let alone 50%) before the rains of winter started. The spring was cold and late, the summer was moderate, and the grape cycle was still three weeks behind.
In our defense, we did everything we could to insure we would be harvesting this year. We dropped crop (cut out grapes early in the season) to focus the energy on the remaining clusters. We cut out tertiary buds early to keep crop loads lower. We vigorously removed leaves to increase airflow and sun exposure on the fruit. And most importantly, we kept the vine balanced for producing fruit in a shorter season.
But even with all this work, the vines were still three weeks behind at the beginning of September (often the starting point for harvest for our higher elevation vineyards). And then the hot weather hit for a week, send the vines into overdrive. What had been potentially a lazy start to the harvest had quickly become a potential logistics nightmare as I could visualize all the varieties needing to be picked at the same time (and we don’t have enough fermenting tanks to do that!).
And then it cooled again. And then it warmed up again. And there was some rain. And, and, and…..
What we got for this unusual weather and all our work in the field is some of the nicest fruit I have ever seen. Varieties like Zinfandel and Merlot (which for us can be notoriously uneven in their ripening (some red and purple berries on the same cluster) were almost entirely black (dark purple) on the whole cluster. This translated out to incredible color in the wines (with even the late season varieties showing the same intensity).
Helping as well was the higher acid levels in both the white and red varieties, due possibly to the shorter growing season. This not only helps to stabilize and intensify the color of the reds, but it tends to give fresher and more intense fruit characters in the wines.
All the varieties achieved the ripeness profile we were looking for, and all at lower sugar levels than in previous vintages. This bodes well for lower alcohol levels and better balance in the wines.
If you haven’t already picked up on my thoughts, I think the 2010 vintage is looking and tasting fantastic. The 2010 vintage is producing more interesting wines than I thought possible, given the challenging weather of the season. And I cannot thank Jose, Carolina and the crew enough for all the hard work in the field. Their amazing diligence meant that we had 70 acres of some of the best fruit in all of California. And I believe this in my heart.
My only concern is that with these final rains, a wine writer or magazine somewhere will call the vintage a failure across California with little thought to the climatic nuances (and farming techniques) of particular regions. If that’s the case (as in 1989 and 1998), it will be difficult to sell anything.
But those decisions are for another day. The harvest is done, the crush will be finished in a couple of weeks, and I couldn’t be more excited about the wines I’m tasting. Once again, I feel we are blessed here in the foothills!