Harvest 2013: Tricks and Treats
It’s been nice to see the vine rows turning fall colors in the golden sunlight, knowing that another Harvest has just about come and gone. There are fewer grape trucks pelting down the highways, more folks at the gym on a Saturday morning and the Halloween decorations are in full force up and down our street in Napa. Even though there are still plenty of active fermentations in the cellars (and some pumpover night shifts still happening), this year I’m guessing there will be a few more mommies and daddies out there with their little trick or treaters enjoying the early end to Harvest 2013.
It was a year that threw us a few tricks but luckily, left us with a lot of treats. Colors and flavors are amazing, we had near-perfect weather during picking in the Garnet Vineyards of Napa, Sonoma and Monterey counties and though it was a little fast and furious, I’ve got very few complaints (and winemakers are a hard-to-please bunch). Here’s my lineup of some “trick-and-treat” highlights, and what it might mean for how the wines of 2013 will continue to develop.
Harvest was fast: This is a good thing if you’re the harvest widow(er), but not necessarily great if extended maceration or other drawn-out tank gymnastics are important for your wine style. This year, the pace of grape ripening and picking meant you had to get tanks fermented and pressed, and empty for the next load of grapes, in a timely manner. Winemakers who rely on weeks of extended macerations (typically a Cabernet Sauvignon tactic) for their wine style signature probably did a lot less of it this year. At Garnet Vineyards we make only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, neither of which needs a long time in tank, so we were in and out of our tanks on a relatively typical 9-10 day schedule. It did mean that a couple of blocks hung out a few days longer than necessary and some lots were fermented in white picking bins because tanks were full, but the latter just provided more opportunities to do more “open top punch down” ferments for added diversity. However, because the cellar crew did such a great job at picking up the pace on pressing and barreling down, we were able to get everything through.
Crop size was healthy: Who would’ve thought that after the sizeable 2012 harvest Mother Nature would have the reserves to serve up another healthy helping of grapey goodness? Though not all areas of the state reported above-average yields, many areas did. The vines, however, were showing signs of stress as the season progressed, possibly due to low potassium levels and depleted soils after producing two bountiful harvests. Two healthy, high-quality harvests seem like a good thing, though, given that there is talk of a global wine shortage, and that American wine consumption keeps rising.
Harvest was early: Early budbreak and a warm, dry spring in much of California was our first sign that Harvest would be a little early this year. In early July a brief heat spike in Northern California looked like it might turn up the pace of ripening even more, piling up mid-October’s Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir right on top of September-ripening Stanly Ranch Carneros Pinot Noir. Two weekends of cool weather in late September, however, slowed things down and let everything’s pick windows widen just enough to walk it all through the winery. Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape and late October rains can wreak havoc on quality, so wrapping up a harvest season a couple of weeks earlier than usual, and being able to forget about the weather forecast, was definitely a treat.
Fermentations are healthy: Primary alcoholic fermentation, where the yeast eat the grape sugars and turn them into ethanol and carbon dioxide, went off pretty much without a hitch. This is a good indication that, possible vine depletion aside, the grapes still grew all the micronutrients the yeast needed for a healthy, complete fermentation. Malolactic fermentations, where naturally-present bacteria transform the grape’s malic acid to a softer, rounder lactic acid, are off to a great start. It’s possible that a warm, dry growing season lessened the amount and diversity of the usual inoculum of spoilage organisms on the grapes, allowing the “good guy” microbes in the cellar to do their job with less competition and less drama.
Musts were balanced: I don’t “pick by the numbers” but if I did, Harvest 2013 would be one for the record books. When everything was “ripe” by flavor and tannin development, which is what I let be my guide regardless of sugar or acid levels, pH, total acidity and micronutrient levels seemed to be right where you would want them. 2013 was a year for minimalist Pinot Noir winemaking, where Mother Nature gave us ripe, flavorful and deliciously balanced produce right from the start.
Quality so far, is wonderful: This is the best Halloween harvest treat of all- a cellar full of happy wines, and wines I’m very happy with. Yesterday I did a vertical tasting of one of my Carneros Pinot Noirs with a well-respected Master of Wine who is a long-time colleague. He evaluated the 2010 and 2011, of which he preferred the latter. But it was when he got to the 2012 (still in barrel, will be bottled in a few months) that his eyes really lit up. Then he tasted the 2013 which was still going through ML fermentation and had only been in barrel for 8 weeks…..and in his gentlemanly and unassuming way suggested that California had just produced two stellar back to back harvests. It’s just one man’s opinion on one vertical of one wine….but I have to admit I agree completely!
Happy Halloween and Happy (end of) Harvest!
Alison Crowe is the Winemaker at Garnet Vineyards and makes wines from estate-grown fruit in Sonoma, Napa and Monterey Counties. Join her on Facebook and Twitter and at www.garnetvineyards.com