Harvest 2011 – Week 9 – The Beginning of the End.

In case you haven’t heard we’re going to have a weather event this next week.  Now, being from the south, I love the way the western weathermen talk about precipitation.  I hear “weather event”, “Major trough”, and my personal favorite “heavy drizzle”.  In the south, weathermen would usually say “It’s going to rain!” and then go on to tell you when and how much.  Rain is a four letter word out here and I suppose that comes from the fact that it only rains during the wintertime thus has the same connotation that snow or ice does in other parts of the country accustomed to the normal condition of rain being a possibility year round. 

 

Anyway, it’s going to rain.  No doubt about it!

 

So this past week will be known for this harvest as the week before the rain, otherwise known as the panic week.  There are a few varieties that can handle a bit of wet weather such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  However, varieties with thinner skins like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir don’t hold up with really wet conditions.  Best case scenario the fruit is diluted a bit and the sugar drops however in the worst case the berries start to rot or fall apart.  In a year of already low tonnage because of the rain during flowering, there were few winemakers who wanted to take the chance on these more susceptible varieties.  This week we’ve seen a LOT of Chardonnay; Sonoma County, Solano, and Mendocino making the bulk of it.  Wine growers were rushing to get fruit to the wineries before the deluge comes. Much of this fruit is below what Californians would consider normal sugars however the majority is above 22 Brix.  Make no mistake; this will not be a normal winemaking vintage for California.  Like 2010, we’ve seen cooler weather than normal prevail over much of the state.  Many of the white varieties that we’ve already harvested have come in under what would be considered normal Brix and the quality is very nice.  I’ve only had to add Tartaric to one lot so far this year and that is next to nothing compared to what we normally add.  Acids are beautiful this year!  Sugars are not as dismal as everyone would like to believe and so far the flavors have been really nice.  Even the natural nitrogen in the fruit is higher than it has been for the past two vintages which make the yeast very happy! When the yeast are happy everyone is happy. 

 

Thus Week 9 brings us to the beginning of the end.  Now that rain is going to be starting its only a matter of time before the harvest comes to a close.  Generally Halloween is a good end date and whatever hasn’t been picked by then is in serious danger of not making whatever quality level it was intended for.  The next four weeks can make or break the vintage when it comes to red varieties.  We’ll see where we end up.

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