This week we are in the middle of bloom. Normally I would be happy about that but this bloom shows the first portends of a challenging vintage. The bloom is not even. There are some clusters with full bloom while others are still tightly closed on the same vine. Below is a picture of full bloom in Merlot
The weather has also been less than ideal. Rain last Thursday night and cool, windy conditions are not ideal for an excellent set. This may be a blessing in disguise however. The flower clusters that are out there are big. Large wings and long primary clusters. Here is some Cabernet in Monastery Block of To Kalon.
In the meantime, I’ve decided to retire my boots. This has been the absolute best pair of boots I’ve ever had. Winemaking is hard on boots. They have to tromp through vineyards, up and down hills, in both wet and dry conditions then come into the winery only to be covered in grape pumace and splashed with wine. Mine have the added requirement of dealing with a house renovation and running after an 18 month old. I bought them for the 2010 vintage and they have lasted me through 2011, 2012, and 2013. I, of course, went out and bought the exact same shoe. I knew I had worn them down but until I compared the two pairs I had no idea how much. Here are the comparison pics below.
Apparently I’ve asked a lot from my shoes and these have delivered. Who knows how many miles they have walked but I look forward to seeing how many miles I can get out of the new pair!>
We need water. We REALLY NEED it very bad! During the whole of last year we only saw around 6 inches of rain when average is around 40 inches or so. San Francisco got just over 5 inches which is getting into desert-type conditions. So far this year, the picture has not improved much. We had a sprinkle of rain (0.01 inch) a few weeks ago but that was it.
The culprit is a high pressure system that has been parked off of the Pacific coast for several months redirecting the rain we usually see down to Mexico. Time magazine recently announced they believe we are moving into an El Niño year meaning a super warm year for the west coast. While they are the only people proclaiming this so far, that on top of a drought year could mean an extremely challenging vintage for grape growers.
1) Low rain and warmer than average winter means early bud break.
2) Early bud break plus extremely dry conditions means a nasty frost season.
3) A bad frost season and low water supplies means that those growers that rely on overhead sprinklers for frost protection have to chose to protect the crop now and risk not having enough water to irrigate later when the summer comes.
4) Low water resources and a warm year means increased irrigation needs further stressing already stressed water supplies.
5) Further stress on already stressed water supplies means agriculture and urban water needs are put at odds once again. That battle is usually won by the urbanites.
6) Reduction of water for agriculture means less crops over all. Lower yields for wine grapes and food crops alike.
7) Lower yields for crops equals higher food prices to the end consumer.
When I say “we need water” I don’t just mean those of us who make our living in Agriculture. I mean ALL of us, collectively.
In all seriousness, start praying for rain. We REALLY need it!
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.