Ah, the 2013 harvest. It was mid-October, and the crusher, press and hoses were all cleaned and put away for the 2014 vintage. “Isn’t that a hint early?” you ask. “Yes, yes it is!” we respond.
The fact is I can’t remember any harvest finishing this early in the last 40 years.
But, what does an early harvest mean? For us, it means we got to go “Trick or Treating” with the kids. Don’t laugh, this is unusual. And if the truth be known, celebrating Halloween with our kids has only a few more years (whereas harvesting comes every year until we’re too old to harvest).
Seriously, though, we need to step back a little in the year to talk about the weather and the vintage’s potential wine quality.
The spring was wonderful in 2013, with no frosts and glorious weather. Flowering (in May/June) saw picture-perfect weather and no rain. The result…a very nice set in the vineyards (meaning lots of grapes as each flower produced a grape).
And then the summer hit. Dry and hot, or at least it seemed very hot. The vines grew rapidly, and many were predicting an early harvest. My thoughts tended to lean toward a very late August or early September start. In the end, we started picking Chardonnay on September 2nd.
Now before I start getting more credit than I deserve, I only picked the start date of the harvest correctly. And I had based that mostly on the beginning of veraison (when the berries start to soften and turn color in August). However, my other major prediction was that this was going to be a very low acid year with the summertime temperatures being so hot that the grapes continually transpired (lost) acid both day and night.
The solution is that wineries add back tartaric acid (the acid that was lost) at the juice stage. And for 2013, I have the honor of stating that I was utterly and completely wrong on this front. Nearly every juice came in wonderfully high in acid with no adjustments needed.
And now finally the benefit for you the consumer. High acid juices tend to extract more color and fruitiness from the skins, resulting in more intense wines for the cellar.
I would be happy to end this recap of the 2013 vintage right here, but that would paint a picture unfair to both to the challenges of the year and to people who worked so hard to make sure the fruit came in perfectly.
Firstly, I would like to give credit to my parents, Richard and Leslie Bush. Not only did they design a wonderfully utilitarian style to the winery, but they oversized it for the production level of finished wines. This means we never ran out of tanks in which to ferment. More importantly, we never had to make the decision of leaving grapes on the vine past perfect maturity because we had no tanks to ferment in. There was always room to pick.
Which leads me to our winemaking team. Tim Wright, Ryan Wright, Jeremy Atkins, John Clark (Maggie’s Dad), Unca Don (my Uncle) and our wonderful French Intern Clarisse Wille made this vintage move smoothly. Long days and endless supplies of fruit were no match for this team. Pumpovers and punchdowns every day, yeast additions, brix tracking and pressings were all done in timely and quality-determined fashion. In other words, no corners were cut!
But if you think about it, taking a season that normally covers 6 to 8 weeks and then jamming it all into 3 weeks or so leaves the challenge of “how do you get it all picked?”
We pick everything by hand with the world’s greatest crew. Nine people working a skilled job, making up to $38/hour (picking Barbera and Zin) brought in all 220+ tons. That’s a lot of fruit, and Jose Brambila, our vineyard manager, gets the credit for working with me and all the winemaker changes (like switching fields and blocks at a whim).
Lastly, a vintage like 2013 could not be possible without the wonderful work of the woman who runs the winery, my wife, Maggie. But her title changes constantly to chauffeur for the kids, chief chef and bottle washer (for my father-in-law, Clarisse and myself), marketing whiz and small winery owner, picking up all the daily diversions while we get to focus simply on the harvest and fermenting grapes. Thank you Maggie!
But since I suspect your interests lie more in the results of the vintage rather than the challenges, I shall sum it up succinctly. Although challenging, this year’s compact harvest of nearly ideally balanced grapes has produced a plethora of complex, dark and incredibly extracted wines. In other words I think 2013 is a vintage to watch out for! (And I even hate ending a sentence with a preposition!)