Winemaking. Life. The Dirt. Alison Crowe is a Winemaker Based in Napa.

Harvest 2013: O Chardonnay Where Art Thou?

Bins of Stanly Ranch Pinot, waiting to begin fermenting

Bins of hand-picked Stanly Ranch Pinot from Carneros, waiting for their turn to become wine!


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.

Checking the sugar levels with a hydrometer- a gently decrease in solution density  (sugar concentration) means the fermentation isn't progressing too quickly!

Using eighteenth century “technology” to check the sugar levels of my fermenting Pinot Noir must.  By floating a hydrometer (weighted glass tube with a density scale on it) in the wine, we check to make sure the fermentation is ticking along  nice and slowly.

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.”

Chardonny, which I usually pick about halfway through the Pinot harvest, is later than expected this year.

The Sonoma Coast Chardonnay isn’t ripening as quickly as one would expect in this “earlier” 2013 harvest- perhaps due to low potassium levels in the soil, a residual effect of last year’s healthy-sized crop?


Gorgeous day at Diamond Vineyards in Carneros- there’s plenty of time for 2013 Chardonnay to ripen up in the sun!

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!

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