With the 2019 harvest and crush now in the books, it’s time to start prognosticating as to the overall quality, or at least that’s a common request in the tasting room. But before we start down that interesting combination of personal taste, guessing and marketing, I think it’s better that we talk about the challenges and benefits of the entire growing season. And I think we also need to note also that my take on the vintage may not be commonly embraced.
So here are a couple of the facts that need to be laid out before we even start. First, we are 100% Estate Grown, which means we use only our own fruit that we have 100% control over. Secondly, most of our vines are 20-45+ years old. Thirdly, we employ our own crew for the entire year…and they’ve been working for us for years. Lastly, we farm naturally (with only organic products) in the vineyard, thus potentially limiting our “arsenal” of sprays with unusual weather conditions.
With those important facts now in the discussion, we also need to separate this 2019 growing year into Spring, Summer and Fall as each had its own set of impacting aspects. So let’s move on!
From the point of view of a grape-grower with vineyards in the higher “mountain” elevations, the spring conditions were wonderful if not interesting. Our number one concern in spring is frost. But with the relatively late bud-break combined with relatively moderate night and morning temperatures, we had no frost burn anywhere in any of our vineyards.
Bud break in late April to early May did start the vineyards off, though, a little late, thus projecting a slightly later than normal harvest (as compared to the last decade, but much more normal for the 1980’s and 1990’s).
The major challenge for the spring season, however, was the rains in the month of May. Our average rainfall is somewhere about 2 inches for the month with plentiful sunshine. The May of 2019, though, gave us over 7 inches of rain and cool and cloudy conditions throughout the month.
Now farming vineyards with only organic products can really be an issue here. Organic products for fighting mildew stay on the proverbial “outside” of the vine (as opposed to non-organic sterile inhibitors which are absorbed into the vine to prevent mildew). The issue with this is that every rain would wash off whatever we had sprayed, leaving the vine unprotected. And with the rains spaced every couple days, it didn’t make any sense to apply new sprays as they would just wash off (and that’s expensive too!).
In our favor, though, were three things. The main thing was that temperatures remained fairly cool (under 65 degrees for extended periods) which does not provide a good environment for mildew to grow. Add to this that most rain events were also followed by breezy conditions. Mildew needs temperatures between 70-85 degrees combined with a moist, protected setting. That’s the opposite to cool and breezy.
Lastly, we’ve been farming these vineyards since they were planted. Our diligence in keeping mildew to almost non-existence in the past meant that there was less inoculum source available now. And finally, our crew took this time to aggressively open up the vines by removing lots of basal leaves near the fruit. With the breezes now, the vines dried out quickly, preventing the environment for mildew. Once the rains stopped, we started applying the sulfur/mineral oils for the rest of the season.
We made it through almost unscathed, but I know other vineyards that were not so “lucky”.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – Coming Soon!