Tag Archives: Vineyards

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.

2017 Harvest Update: Veraison

Finally, it has dried out.  I can walk in the vineyards and my back yard without worrying about sinking into a puddle.  Since my last update we have still had several more storms however it has not been everyday and we have at last seen a return to sun which gave us a few weeks of normal summer weather.  Despite this, the humidity has stayed very high and has caused growers to continue to be on their game with fungus sprays.  Downy mildew has been widespread this year.  This week brought many storms as a cold front moved through and now our forecast says nights in the 50s with highs in the 70s over the next week or so.  Luckily it is supposed to be relatively dry over the same period.  If this continues it should make up for the crazy rain from earlier in the “summer”.

The reds are just now going through veraison but many of the white hybrids are within a few weeks of harvest.  We are starting our Aurore harvest tomorrow for sparkling and we will continue almost constantly until mid-October.  The vinifera is very exciting this year with the cool nights.  It should be a beautiful year for acid assuming the rest of the fruit is clean.  If we get a moderately warm September with low rainfall and cool nights, this vintage could be spectacular.  It is still too early to tell but the vines are healthy.

Blaufrankisch at the start of veraisonBlaufrankisch at the start of veraison

I’m getting ready to crush Blaufrӓnkisch (Pronounced Blaw-fraan-kish) for the first time for the 240 Days Project.  I’ve never worked with this variety but I’m extremely excited about it for the Finger Lakes.  It is an Austrian variety, mainly grown in the Burgenland with characters similar to Syrah but with a Cabernet-like structure. Most of the local wineries call this variety Lemberger and many cite Blaufrӓnkisch’s challenging pronunciation as the reason to do so.  I have my own thoughts on this since we haven’t found another name for Gewürztraminer (Ge-vurz-tra-meen-er) yet and goodness knows that one is equally challenging.  Blaufrӓnkisch is a deeply colored variety that ripens a week to week and a half ahead of where Cabernet Franc ripens, making it very appropriate for our short growing seasons.  In anticipation of the small but fun project, I’m going to do something else I’ve never done; I’m going to ferment it in barrels.  That has necessitated me purchasing coopering tools, pictured below. These will help me remove the hoops and heads then retighten the hoops in order to be able to stand the barrels on their remaining head and dump in the harvested fruit.

Barrel Wax, Head Tool, Hoop Hammer, and large L shape is a Head Holder.Barrel Wax, Head Tool, Hoop Hammer, and large L shape is a Head Holder.

This is something I had always wanted to do with the To Kalon fruit in Napa but we never got around to trying it before I moved.  I think the roundness of the palate of the Blaufrӓnkisch and the spicy character will pair nicely with the natural structure and complexity of an oak fermentation.  There will be challenges since these will need to be punched down rather than a pump over.  The early cap work I usually do during a red fermentation will be much harder.  I am considering getting a wader and punching down by foot but we’ll see.

Today, I’m off to China for the final trip of the Ningxia Winemaker Challenge. On August 29th we all find out how we did over the past two years.  This has been an incredible experience and one which I will remember forever.  I can’t wait to find out how the wine is received.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Seriously, we are good.  Last year was a drought year for the Finger Lakes but this year has been one of the wettest on record.  Upstate NY had the wettest March and April ever on record according to National Weather data.  Just in the past 30 days over 10 inches have fallen.  For the last 90 days we are between 8-12 inches above our normal average.

Weather data for July 25th, 2017 90 Day departure from normal.

Weather data for July 25th, 2017 90 Day departure from normal.

So you see that little purple blob in the middle of the map?  That is where I live.  The Grey at the top is Lake Ontario and this is the highly pixelated view of rainfall as a departure from normal for Western NY.  What does this mean?  Very little sun and LOTS of water.  The rivers are overflowing.  Lake Ontario is 28 inches above its long term average even after record outflows are being sent into the St. Lawrence seaway.  The massive flooding of roads and new water ponds in fields brings to mind that once, well before the glaciers carved out this amazing terrain, this area was covered with a massive in-land sea.  Flash flood warnings are a nearly daily occurrence.  That high level of moisture results in intensely humid days similar to the ones I grew up with in the deep south.  The growers have to be totally on their game to keep the fruit clean.  Downy Mildew is having a field day in vineyards which have been caught unaware.  Luckily, the fruit that I work with looks clean so far.  The fruit is still green and hasn’t even thought about veraison yet so the vintage can still be saved.

Flash flood warnings are a nearly daily occurrence.  That high level of moisture results in intensely humid days similar to the ones I grew up with in the deep south.

I’m putting in my August weather order now.  We need sun and heat and no more rain.  The vines have plenty of water reserves to draw from and are growing like weeds.  Hedging is a must but that can end up compounding the issues because of lateral shoot formation which further closes the canopy.  Closed canopies can lead to further fungal infections and it all just becomes a vicious cycle.  Closed canopies can also have an effect on next year’s harvest due to high levels of shading on the buds.  I hope this fate is one which most if not all growers can avoid.

In the winery, we are a little less than a month from starting harvest for the hybrid whites.  We are trying to make room in the tanks and making sure we have plenty of harvest supplies. I placed an order for more barrels today, having just located another fun red variety to add to the 240 Days line up.  What is it?  You’ll have to wait and see!

Stay tuned…