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

3 Surprising Things About Harvest 2015

 

Shoots are well out but a cool spring has put the brakes on what could've been a record early harvest.

Shoots are well out but a cool spring has put the brakes on what could’ve been a record early harvest.

1- It’s not early (anymore)

Back in April, after a historically warm winter in California, we winemakers were gearing up for an early start to the harvest season. Budbreak happened around the state at record early times; a full week earlier than 2014 which was in itself 2-3 weeks earlier than normal. Oh well, we said. That means it’ll finish faster and maybe we’ll get to dress up and have some beers on Halloween. Beers aside, one of the true benefits to an earlier-than-normal harvest is the reduced risk of November rain falling on any crop still on the vine.

Fast forward two months and it looks like, just about statewide, we’ve been flung back to “normal”. Two of the coldest spring months we’ve had in many years have really put the brakes on the ripening. For me that means I’ll be starting to pull off the first of our Carneros Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir around September 10 or so, instead of August 18 like last year. It also means that I may have to worry about late fall rains . While I’m not going to get all pessimistic and predict another 2007 or 1989 (though I was still in Junior High back then), I would be lying if I told you I didn’t have my rot and botrytis radar on.

Some AVA's saw enough rain to have ponds almost full while some are experiencing severe water shortages.

Some AVA’s saw enough rain to have ponds almost full while some are experiencing severe water shortages.

2-Some areas won’t be so affected by the drought (this year)

The warmer, drier winter that accelerated an early bloom this year had a silver lining. Because we didn’t have many frost events, especially in the North Coast, those wineries using irrigation pond water for emergency frost protection didn’t have to get the sprinklers out. As a result, going into the (presumably) hotter summer and fall growing season, many folks in the North Coast have ponds over 80% full. The cooler, damper spring we’ve been having has additionally kept some areas of the state a little greener as we roll towards June.

Some areas of the state like Paso Robles however, have been so dry for so long that we’re starting to wonder if not just the quantity, but the quality of any water used for irrigation might have impacts on the fruit and on the vine.  Higher salt levels can translate to higher levels of potassium in the grapes which in turn can cause higher pH’s (lower acidity).  That can have a real impact on fermentation dynamics and eventual wine quality so those of us in really dry areas will be keeping an eye on juice and wine chemistries early on.  Unless we get a really wet winter, even those of us who skated through this year will start to be really affected.  If we don’t see appreciable rain in late 2015/early 2016, I predict a much lighter crop for Harvest 2016.

 

Small and large berries mingle on the same cluster, making it difficult to uniformly predict ripeness.

Small and large berries mingle on the same cluster, making it difficult to uniformly predict ripeness.

3- It’s going to be hard(er) to find the right pick date

If the weather is warm and clear during the bloom-to-set period of grape ripening, when the flowers get fertilized and turn into developing grape berries, it usually lasts two or maybe three weeks.  Because of the cold, drizzly weather many of us have been experiencing this spring, this critical period has been elongated and interrupted.  Little delicate flowers have a harder time getting consistently fertilized when it’s windy, cold or rainy.  This means many of us are still seeing blooming flowers and set berries on the same shoot as well as many “hen and chick” clusters where bigger berries are interspersed with tiny little hard BB’s.  This in turn means that, as the grapes approach ripeness, some clusters on the same vine and even berries within the same cluster may be more or less ripe when compared to their neighbors.  That means winemakers have to be super-vigilant when choosing pick dates.  They will have to really make sure their vineyard brix sample size is big enough to be significant and they will have to rely on multiple cluster rather than berry-only samples.  Forget about just skipping down a few vine rows popping random berries to taste for development; 2015 will be a season where it will pay to sample early, widely and often.

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners and Winemaker for Picket Fence Vineyards, Garnet Vineyards and others.  She sources from vineyards all over California for her clients’ projects.  Girl and the Grape won “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014.  @alisoncrowewine  ancrowe@hotmail.com

 

 

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