Vintage Report 2019

I’m so honored today to be giving the keynote this morning at the Vintage Report Napa 2019. I’m excited to share notes from both my East Coast and West Coast vintages since I feel we as a country are quite separated into CA and Non-CA wine regions. There is so much we can learn from other area beyond where we are making wine and this is one of the central themes of my talk.

My life as an MW has slowly merged into my life as a winemaker and this was particularly evident in 2018. I was able to pull from the MW knowledge to make two very special wines; one on each coast.

My East coast wine is of course, the Trestle Thirty One 2018 Riesling. Previous to 2018 my wines have had a common style. Dry and textured with a clean, fresh mouthfeel and focused fruit and flint character. The 2018 vintage surprised and delighted me with a challenge when the fruit had a 30% Nobel rot influence and the Brix shot up to 24.5 in the press even though all evidence of prior samples pointed to a 19 Brix harvest. This gave me the opportunity to explore a style similar to an Austrian Smaragd. It is by taste dry but incredibly rich and concentrated. I tasted a number of them before kicking off the fermentation and used the style as my template for how to manage my Riesling.

The second wine was made in Oakville and was a dessert style which was originally planned to be made from Botrytis grapes. Due to the dryness of Napa, Botrytis is naturally hard to come by so I opted to follow Italian tradition and make a Passito method wine. We dried the grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon both, on the vine to 34 and 36 Brix respectively. Then we used a Tokaji pressing method to soak the dried fruit and during the 12 hour press cycle extract as much precious juice as possible. We then used Sauternes inspiration for a French oak fermentation with 1/3 being new and a Sauternes yeast to finish it off. The finished wine is a beautiful mix of these styles which I would have never even thought of without my MW.

So if I can leave everyone with one theme from this it is as winemakers we can not isolate ourselves in our home regions. Collectively we can make better wine by learning from each other and about regions which on the outset it may seem we have nothing in common with.

For info on the rest of my talk about specifics of Napa and the Finger Lakes in 2019 I hope you can attend this morning. If not, perhaps the video will be posted by the Vintage Report team.

Harvest 2019 Update – Napa and the Finger Lakes

Clearly it’s been a while since I have posted.  With so much going on this year it has been hard to find time to write but my harvest updates are always appreciated so I wanted to make a priority to get those up this year.

Napa

We started with a super wet spring with a very late rain storm so disease pressure has been high (for CA) this season.  Powdery Mildew has not been kind to those who weren’t on their spray game.  Outside of that, the season looks very similar to 2018 however if we look at the growing degree days we have seen so far we are ahead of last year.  It definitely doesn’t feel like it though as the Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir all seem to be jockeying for the same time frames at this point.   With the threat of rain on Monday, I’ve pulled in the majority of the Pinot Noir.  One thing I don’t mess around with is Pinot and rain.  If it is ripe enough, it’s coming in.  Pinot will melt on you faster than an ice cube in the desert.  I feel the same way about Chard generally but so much of the Chardonnay needs more time we are having to gamble a bit there.  The Bordeaux varieties will only benefit from a little bit of rain.  It will dust the leaves off and likely jump start the ripening process.  Brix are definitely running ahead of physiological indicators so far on healthy plants and young plantings.  The older/virused blocks are running behind similar to what would be expected.

 

Pinot Noir in Carneros

Finger Lakes

It’s been the normal variable weather in the Finger Lakes.  Bud break was mid May which is generally late for the region.  There was over 10 inches of rain recorded in Geneva, NY for the summer which is not terribly unusual.  For those fortunate enough to attend the FLXcursion this July, we were able to enjoy a very rainy Monday on the first day of the conference which was just enough to cool off after the few days before of hot weather. August has been relatively cool and wet but the past week or so it has been drier and warmer which is helping the vines move along quickly at up to three Brix per week.   The next few weeks will be critical in determining what this vintage shapes up to be.

Riesling on Seneca Lake for Trestle Thirty One

Harvest 2018 Update

This has been an insane year.  I haven’t had much time to post at all which I’m incredibly disappointed by.  However, the 2018 harvest is shaping up to be a very interesting one.  Over the summer, my family and I relocated back to Napa, California but we are keeping our brand, Trestle Thirty One, from the Finger Lakes in upstate NY.  This requires me to keep on top of harvests on both coasts.  I’ll try to catch everyone up on what has happened so far.

Napa

It’s so similar to 2010 it is scary.  In 2010, the summer was mild with very few hot days post veraison with the one exception of right before labor day when all the Pinot Noir I was working with decided to jump 4 Brix over the span of a few days.  The color development was phenomenal and the whites and early ripening red vineyards had such incredible finesse, high acids, and intensely chunky tannins.  Early rains in October changed the mood and late ripening red vineyards struggled to reach maturity.  2010 was also when Brian and I bought our house in Calistoga and started renovations which would last 5 years.  We moved in around mid October and were harvesting and trying to get unpacked at the same time.

So here we are in 2018 with a mild summer with few heat spikes (minus the labor day heat that 2010 had), amazing whites with fresh acid, elegant Pinot Noir, and early Cabernets are showing color that is off the charts, low pHs, and lots of flavor and tannin stuffing.  We had almost 1.25 inches of rain last week however which soaked the vineyards and made me thankful I had brought my muckboots with me.  Ripening has slowed considerably and after an early run of fruit, the season has been achingly slow although quality is still amazing.  Just like 2010, the first rain was not really an issue.  It’s the second rain now that could cause problems.  It may be that mother nature will smile on us with a long and calm season.  Today was spectacular in Napa with plenty of wind to dry out any remaining wet spots.  With the heat tomorrow, I expect to see a wave of movement in maturity and predict the week of October 15th and 22nd will be VERY busy in the valley.

We are also unpacking from a move again, but unlike 2010, we didn’t have to do any immediate renovations on our new home which has been a welcome respite from home demo and remodeling.  Our 1885 house in Geneva, was finished only a week before we left NY and was sold to its new owners who were super excited to not have to do anything to it.

Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes have had a very unusual growing season as is usual in the area.  I’m not sure if we can even say that upstate NY has a “typical” growing season.  Every year comes with its own surprises.  About the only thing you can count on in the Finger Lakes is you will come to a point where you have to gamble your crop and suddenly I think of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.  “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

2018 has been no exception.  On August 14th, 5 inches of rain fell over much of the area with some localized rain up to 9 inches.  Many homes were devastated and erosion was a problem in many vineyards in the worst hit areas.  Luckily for most of the varieties it was still early enough that the fruit wasn’t compromised.  The next wave came from Hurricane Florence remnants which dropped around 1 inch of rain around mid September but was no where near as bad as it could have been.  This caused some botrytis issues, particularly in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  We picked our Trestle Thirty One Chardonnay on Monday, September 24.  The hand crew did a fantastic job of sorting in the field and we ended up with a small but delicious crop of Chardonnay with beautiful chemistry.  It is currently bubbling away during fermentation and should be finished within a few days.

Then we turned our attention to Riesling.  The almost continuous daily showers have made this a challenging year for winemakers and growers alike.  Everyone has their own way of dealing with this type of season but we are taking the gamble and hanging the fruit.  The vineyard managers have done a great job of sending in crews to drop the fruit that has turned sour and leaving only the clean fruit.  I anticipate another pass close to harvest and then the hand harvesting will clean out whatever compromised fruit the first two passes may have missed.

At this point, I am doing my normal stalking of all the online weather information and have accuweather pages up for both Napa and Geneva, NY.  The main goal, realistically the only goal, is to make the best wine possible from both regions.  It’s been a fun harvest so far and I’m sure the best is yet to come.