Among the many hats I wear, one that definitely stays in the closet is the harvest hat. Do I love this time of year? Yes. Do I get excited about another new vintage of potentially outstanding wines? Absolutely. Am I slogging through the vineyard with a grape bucket and shoveling out tanks? Um, no. (I figured out long ago that I'm better at hiring the winemaker than being the winemaker.) BUT, I've got the utmost respect for those who work so very hard to produce our outstanding wines through this busy season. So, with another "crush" safely tucked away and put to bed, I thought I'd share a few words of reflection on the season that was.
The winter of 2010 will go down as one of our rainiest in the past decade. And, what made it especially unusual was the lateness of the rains. Normally, we begin to "dry out" in late April and early May. By mid-May, we are dry until after harvest (usually around mid-October). This year, it rained more than 20 days in May and we had rains all the way through Memorial Day weekend. Skiers rejoiced - vintners did a lot of hand wringing. Because of the late rains, we were behind from the get go in our vineyards. Pruning and other vineyard management issues had to wait until things dried out, automatically setting us back. June was a terrific weather month, maybe a tad cool but nonetheless beautiful. Then July came - woeful, gloomy July. This was maybe the most unusual summer month I have ever lived through in wine country. Cold, cold, cold. Instead of shorts and tee shirts, I was wearing sweaters and sipping tea at my desk. As a result, veraison (the process of grapes turning color) took much longer than usual. In fact, by the time we got to August, most vineyards had not yet turned, promoting many of our brethren to leaf. This is when the bottom of the canopy is opened up to allow sunlight to hit the grapes directly, thereby speeding up veraison and hopefully helping to move the growing season along as well. About the same time this happened, temperatures spiked to record highs of more than 110 degrees for three straight days. You can imagine the dismay. For those vintners who did leaf, much of their crop was lost because veraison is such a critical moment in the life cycle of the grape. This is when the grape is at its most fragile stage; the heat effectively served to dry the grape out causing it to raisin. Raisins don't make good wine, trust me.
Moving along, the rest of August and September were equally difficult. Cool, misty mornings had many people worrying about molds and fungus growth in the vineyard. Finally, we made it to October and the beginning of harvest - about three weeks late. The first part of harvest went off without a hitch - great weather, smiling faces and for the most part, a very nice looking crop. But, as with this vintage, nothing was a sure thing. The weekend of October 23rd and 24th saw more than 5 inches of rainfall at the winery. Again, the weather had people scrambling to get grapes in before it became a total loss.
So, with all of the doom and gloom, how did we fare? Well, from what I can tell, pretty darn well. Experience really paid off this year. As the saying goes, this was not our winemakers' first rodeo. Calm decision-making and a steady hand proved invaluable. Attention to detail in the vineyard and lots of pre-planning saved us from any major meltdowns. I'm told that Zinfandel was probably hardest hit in terms of tonnage but all of the other varieties came in pretty normal. And, because of the longer hang time overall, we're already seeing some amazing aromatics (blueberries, black cherries) in our Cabernets.
Overall, I think we'll have some very fine wines from the 2010 vintage, which by any measure is a real testament to our winemaking team, cellar crew and vineyard folks who kept us going through the wacko harvest of 2010.
Thank God they didn't have me out there making the decisions!