Joe’s Winemaking Notes: October 2017
It’s been a chaotic month, as harvest kicked into top gear, during the final days of August. We’ve been on a roller coaster ride since August 30, with extreme heat, absurd lows, and a couple September rainstorms are thrown in! I feel a little guilty complaining, after seeing the devastation heaped on Houston, South Florida, and Puerto Rico; but we’ve seen some very weird weather, in our corner of the U.S., too. It’s been atypical for this region and has challenged us when making the decision whether to pick or allow the grapes to stay on the vine a little longer. This year is just another of a string of “unusual” vintages, since 2010. The long-time grape growers, who I consider reference sources, have even started giving up on the idea of a “normal” year. Instead, it’s become more a question of what curve ball Mother Nature will throw at them next!
In late August, and the first few days of September, we were confronted by a potent heat wave, with temperatures in Green Valley reaching 111°F. Not the “cool coastal” conditions we are used to experiencing! Fortunately, our grape vines had weathered a few earlier hot spells as they were maturing, and were hardened against the hot sun. Even though we started picking Pinot Noir a week later than the 2015 and 2016 vintages, by September 8, we had filled our fermenters with beautiful Pinot Noir! It took a focused effort in the vineyard and on our sorting table, to cull out any sun-damaged grapes, but we were prepared.
After bringing in our earliest Pinot Noir blocks, the weather took a dramatic turn again. This time toward conditions we mostly see after harvest, in October and November. Temperatures plummeted, with high temps just clearing 70°F on September 7, fully 40 degrees colder than a week earlier. The good news is that this gave the unpicked grapes a chance to recover a bit, from the heat of the week before. And, it let the crew and me refresh a bit, too!
It was pretty dramatic to experience a rare coastal thunderstorm that day while sorting Pinot Noir grapes. It was a quickly passing storm and didn’t produce enough rain to harm the grapes.
Here’s a photo from the crush pad, as rain fell in sheets.
As we were in the middle of the Pinot Noir action, I started getting calls from our grape growing partners that their Chardonnay looked ready to harvest. I had stopped being surprised by the twists and turns of 2017, but I had hoped for a little separation between the two largest varieties that we ferment!
I made the rounds of our earliest ripening Chardonnay vineyards, and sure enough – flavors, sugar levels, and acidity levels in the grapes showed them to be at their peak. We began harvesting Chardonnay on September 6 and continued with the Chardonnay picking throughout September. Only two vineyard sites, both historically picked late in the year, remained to be harvested.
As mentioned, we have a couple of Chardonnay vineyard sites that are still waiting to be harvested. Our Russian River Valley Pinot Gris was also still hanging on the vine until this morning, as it’s located in a very cool pocket of the appellation. There, the vines escaped much of the heat but were even more slowed down by our cool weeks and the two brief rain storms. It took a little patience, but they were perfectly ready for harvesting, on October 1!
The final pick, as is normally the case, will be our Green Valley Cool Climate Syrah, grown on Cherry Ridge Road, west of Sebastopol. Syrah is a variety that needs every drop of summer and fall sunshine, to ripen on the Sonoma Coast; and, can hang on the vines into late October some years. It won’t be that late this year, with an anticipated harvest around October 7.
Here’s a photo of one Syrah cluster, during my sampling on September 23. Only 20 brix (a measure of grape sugar levels), and still several weeks away from picking at that date. I’m usually happy with the Syrah development at 23-24 brix, but this year has been anything but ordinary. We’re really looking forward to tracking how the Syrah continues to develop and bringing in this late season gem!