Harvest 2014: Week 2- How to Decide When to Pick Pinot Noir

Up until late last week Brix were climbing rapidly. Then in the middle of the week we had some showers come through which has slowed the progression. We’ve now had foggy mornings and cool nights returning, finally! While at the beginning of last week it seemed certain that Pinot Noir would come in late this week, the game has changed, which it always does with Pinot. So how does one go about deciding to pick Pinot Noir?

1) Observe the Cluster and Pick a Berry

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Try to pick from different spots from each cluster you sample including the front, back, top, and bottom.

2) Chew the Berry, separating the seeds and the skin from the pulp.

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Spit out the seeds in your hand to observe how brown they are. These are getting close to ripe. I’m not a huge proponent that Pinot seeds need to be brown but it helps in determining where the grapes are in development.

3) Chew the skins to macerate them to determine color development and extract-ability.

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I normally just spit out the juice and observe the color before it hits the ground but since this takes considerable practice the easier method (although slower) is to squeeze the skins in your fingers until the juice runs out. Observe the color in the juice.

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This is fairly dark for Pinot so it looks like it will be a good color year for this variety.

4) Taste the flavors and acid balance. No pictures to assist here. Just make sure the balance is good, the acid is fresh, and the flavors are coming around. Pinot is deceiving because often flavors exist at lower Brix that are not readily apparent in the berries. Often, if you wait for fully developed flavors you’ve missed your ideal acid so I tend to rank acid development higher in Pinot than any other sign of ripeness.

That all being said, if the mornings continue to stay cool then our first Pinot will come in next Monday. However, if we lose the fog and it really starts to heat up it may still be this Friday.

Harvest 2014: Week 1 – WITH GRAPES!!!

Welcome to the first installment of my annual weekly harvest update!  I have been doing this portion of my blog since 2010.  Week 1 is always the first week in August regardless of fruit or not.  I originally picked the first week in August because I thought it would be the earliest any fruit would come in.  This year due to the super early harvest we are having, that thought proved to be correct.  This year Week 1 also coincides with seeing our first grapes at the winery.  We are picking Sauvignon Blanc on Wednesday.  This is the earliest non-sparkling harvest that I have experienced in my 8 years in California.  Heck, it’s the earliest non-sparkling harvest that I’ve ever experienced in any region I’ve worked in.  I suppose that is what the warmest vintage in over 15 years will do for you.

Last year we received grapes on Week 2. In 2011, we were still going through veraison and didn’t get moving until Week 5, just to give you an idea of the wide swings from those extreme vintages.  Hopefully I don’t need to adjust my calendar to include a Week “0″.

The weather this summer has been hot and relatively humid for this area.  Powdery Mildew has been rampant and growers have had to really watch their spray programs.  We’ve had multiple days over the 100 degree mark and what seems to me warmer nights for the area (upper 50s and low 60s at night although I have no actual evidence to support the claim that the nights are warmer than usual).

My prediction from earlier in the season, just after flowering, seems to have been spot on.  The ripeness within the clusters are all over the place.  Cluster sampling for harvest Brix will be a must this year.  Veraison was nice and even in 2013 and very rapid which led to a very even harvest.  This year Veraison has taken almost a month and in some clusters there are still green berries with berry samples approaching 20 Brix!  Not fun. I had thought that we would be able to counter act the further behind fruit during the green drop however since it seems to be a berry by berry issue that will only be helped by harvest timing.  Understanding what the average sugar, acid, and flavor profile of a particular block is will be key to making the best wine this year.  Best case scenario and one that I am excited about in the Pinot Noir is that this variability of ripeness will allow for lots of complexity in the final wines.  The less ripe fruit will provide acid and backbone while the more ripe fruit will add body and fruit.  Picking when the average of the two are ripe may result in some amazing wines with fresh acid but ripe fruit profiles.  Picking too early will result in green tannins with harsh acids and picking too late may result in prune raisin characters.

Then there are the vineyards which may need to be picked twice like the one below.

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Half of the vine is through veraison and is moving towards harvest.  The other half of the same vine with a younger trunk is not even thinking about veraison or harvest!  This will have to be harvested in two passes.  Pinot is just too delicate to try to average fruit this spread out.

Meanwhile, there is this little issue of water.  Well, ok, it is a really big issue.  Most of our growers are still ok but I know of growers who are not.  All you have to do is drive around the valley and check out the irrigation ponds to know that if we don’t get rain this winter, we are in serious trouble.  Funny enough, our dry farmed blocks of To Kalon look fine.  They aren’t even stressed.  Granted the yields are much lower than our irrigated blocks (1-2 tons/acre as opposed to 4 tons per acre) but should we be looking at returning the valley to dry farming to protect our water resources?  Granted, not every vineyard can be dry farmed and not every rootstock does well with dry farming, however I think we should really take a second look at it.

Update 8/6/14:  Our first grapes arrived today despite some scattered showers yesterday.

Winemaker on Tour

This past week I spent an amazing 48 hours in Denver, Colorado. I’d only been to Denver a few times in the past but always remember having a good time. We had quite a few amazing meals this trip. The first was a lunch at Pallatte’s located at the Denver Museum of Art. The Ahi Tuna tacos were a great start and then the Cobb salad was the perfect light introduction to what would turn out to be several great meals. The dinner that night was at a small casual gastro pub called the Coral Room located in an unassuming strip mall in one of the most up and coming areas of the Denver suburbs. We went through several courses paired with the Robert Mondavi Winery wines. The highlights for me was the smoked salmon appetizer as well as the amazing cheesecake with blueberry sauce for dessert. The next day following a meeting with our amazing distributor team we went to lunch at a restaurant called Cool River. I had a wonderful 7oz Filet here which was the highlight of the meal and I still feel a bit of regret that I didn’t get a chance to try their Makers Mark Bread Pudding. Maybe next visit? Dinner that night was at an amazing restaurant called Coolhills run by a husband and wife team comprised of Tom Coolhill, the culinary genius, and D, the front of house manager. The multi course menu that we went through was the gastronomic highlight of the trip. Our wines were beautifully paired with the dishes which are listed in full below.

All and all it was a very successful sales trip and I especially loved meeting all the amazing people that came to all the lunches and dinners.

Meanwhile, back in Napa, I was getting Brix updates from some of our Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc vineyards which included one block of Pinot that was at 17.5 Brix, last Monday. Harvest is approaching rapidly and I’m happy to be back home to turn my full focus on the incoming fruit.

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