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.
When I last talked about how vintage 2011 was going in the NorthCoast was in bloom and the weather was truly dismal indeed! Now after several weeks of beautiful, warm, sunny weather our outlook on the vintage is beginning to lift. The rain during bloom did impact the crop levels negatively. So far I’ve heard that Chardonnay and Pinot have been the hardest hit however it seems that it is highly dependant on site as I’ve also talked to growers who say that their Chardonnay has set normally. Our Malbec looks spotty at Asti but that’s not terribly unusual for Malbec here even during ideal weather. The rest of the red wine varieties seem to have set a normal sized crop however my seedless table grape set looks pretty shabby. As this is my first foray into table grape growing, I’m not sure if it’s normal or not. The warm weather is a good sign though because the smaller crop will ripen faster than a normal sized crop a sugar accumulates faster with less berries. If this weather continues we may have somewhat of a normal harvest season for the whites specifically. Already we’re warmer than we were at this point last year with several 100+ days under our belts on the North Coast. This is also a good sign as it gives the grapes time to acclimate to hot temperatures which will avoid the “blanched” problem that we saw last year from the 3 days of 110+ late last August. With all the rain early on the disease pressure has been high. Combined with the tricky European Grapevine Moth sprays which must be timed with the flight cycles of the moth, the growers have been kept on their toes keeping the problems at bay. As for the winery, spirits are high with the continued warm weather. We’re working on testing and cleaning all the harvest equipment and anticipate seeing the first grapes through the gate around mid to late August. Our sights are set on ordering yeasts, Malolactic bacteria, and oak. We are not, as we were this time last year, staring at the sky and scratching our heads. We are reveling in the bright light, warmth, and soft breezes that the grapes needed desperately. This is also the calm before the storm in the winemaking world so I’ve taken the time to reorganize my office, dust off my clipboards, and ready everything for the coming craziness. I’m also going to be attending the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011 in Charlottesville, VA next week. I’m super excited about this because it seems that this conference will be geared to what I am which is a wine centered blog! Several great speakers and promising break out sessions should put me in a good mood to enjoy some wine with my husband and fellow bloggers! If you’re also attending be sure to come by during the White wine tasting session as I’ll be pouring the Emma Pearl 2009 Central Coast Chardonnay since we’re sponsoring part of the conference as well!
Here’s to a great season!!
I spent a good bit of my Saturday at the Asti Winery tasting room for the Barrel Tasting Weekends for the Northern Sonoma County Wine Roads. This included an event for Dry Creek, Russian River, and of course my stomping grounds the Alexander Valley. I love events like this because I was able to talk to so many great people who loved the wines and really enjoyed learning more about them. There’s always a danger that these weekends will devolve into crowds of drunken people meandering from tasting room to tasting room looking for a cheap buzz. I didn’t see any of the normal signs of that this weekend. It was pleasantly surprising to see the enthusiasm of our guests and that they were so hungry to learn about wine. It’s never a trial to talk to people who are sober and excited about trying your wines. Our barrels were both 2009 Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserves, each a single vineyard; one from the Asti Estate and the other from Stuhlmuller Vineyards in the southern Alexander Valley. Wine Thief in hand, I described the differences between the different ends of the Alexander Valley and pulled endless samples from the barrels for people to taste. As always, the Stuhlmuller was the more open fruit of the two vineyards because the Estate stays very closed and tight for the first 24 months and only opens up towards the end of the barrel aging cycle. Both wines were VERY young as we age the Reserves for 2 years in barrel and another year in bottle before release. Anyway, it was great to chat with everyone and stand out on the patio on such a nice day.
The remainder of the weekend was spent out in the vineyards finishing our pruning and pulling our catch wires apart. The vines are weeping like crazy and we had to be extremely careful because the buds have become very easy to knock off. Bud break is not far away at all. So far we are on target for a normal year of rain which is very exciting after so many years in a drought (not counting 2010 which was cool and wet). Sunday brought a thunderstorm which I loved because it reminds me of the storms on the east coast and today is still quite overcast. The forecasters in California call it “unsettled” weather.
For the uninitiated, every winter the vines must be pruned to remove almost 95% of the growth from the year before. This keeps them from becoming a crazy tangled mess that only a machete would be appropriate for. It is also a figurative “reset button” for the vineyard itself. It doesn’t clear all problems but it definitely helps. Once the ground begins to warm up the vines start to pull up water and sugar reserves through the vascular system (this is the vine’s circulatory system). The pruning wounds have openings to the vascular system and as the water begins to run up through the vine they begin to weep from the openings. This is the first sign of spring to me and it is once the vines have stopped weeping that we really see the first buds pushing for the new vintage.
Next blog I’ll go into a bit of trellis design for vineyards since I’m sure some of you are scratching your head as to what catch wires are.