Harvest 2013: O Chardonnay Where Art Thou?
Here at Garnet Vineyards the Pinot Noir on the North Coast has been coming in just one block after another. The tsunami of grapes that I saw coming two weeks ago has already hit and residual waves are gently lapping at the winery as we walk ripening blocks of Pinot through the tanks one by one. The stellar cellar crew (say that five times fast) is getting into the groove of crushing first thing, monitoring Brix levels (we measure the juice sugar levels to keep tabs on the health of each fermentation) in the morning, and pumping over and punching down twice a day to make sure the cap (floating grape skins) is getting mixed up with the juice to extract color and tannin.
Mother Nature has smiled on us this week and hasn’t served up any more heat spikes (knock on French Oak) like that little one we had ten days ago. The mild weather we’ve been experiencing in Sonoma lately has meant that the Pinot clusters at Rodger’s Creek and Diamond Vineyards are being left to ripen literally in their own sweet time. We also are just about to get started pulling in Pinot Noir from our Alta Loma Vineyard in Monterey County; the Pinot harvest there should progress at a comfortable pace.
So who’s now on my “watch list” this week? Our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay vineyards, of course! It is supposedly an “early ripening” varietal, but this year the Chardonnay seems to be ripening even later than in 2012, which was a bit of a late year for Chardonnay to begin with. To find out what’s up, I placed a call to my friend and colleague Pete Opatz, Winemaker/Owner of Route 128 Winery and all-around grape expert at Silverado Premium Properties in Napa. Pete says, “Typically you start getting into the Chardonnay about halfway through the Pinot harvest.”
This year’s two week delay from normal is, “…probably due to a boomerang reaction to last year’s heavier crops, lower Potassium levels in soils, and a small heat spike we had in June, which caused leaf lamina damage in Chardonnay,” Pete says. The quality of the grapes shouldn’t be affected, which is good news. There is a tiny cool-down phase in the weather predicted for this weekend, though I’m not worried about any appreciable amount of precipitation. However, if it’s not windy enough to dry things out again, we’ll start having to watch for botrytis….but let’s not allow the paranoid scenarios of “what if” to make us spiral into a worrisome Harvest depression. It’s a gorgeous day today and we just have to wait for those acid levels to come down and flavor and sugar levels come up….let’s all remember it’s still just the middle of September. Patience!