September 25, 2012
So our normal harvest is about 6 weeks long starting with some Chardonnay and Viognier and then gradually working our way through Merlot, Syrah, Cabs, etc. It really feels quite fast paced and is a lot of fun. This is the time of year that we as winemakers normally complain about how hard life is standing in the sun harvesting grapes, pressing, testing and tasting through our fermentations. It is hard work enjoying your hobby 12-16 hours per day :)
So now, this year is different. We are still having an absolute blast, but there are times where almost boredom has ensued as well. We are working a 9-5 harvest! Where most years come and go in 6 weeks, this year we have already been going for 35 days and have just finished up our Chardonnay. Strangely the first thing picked was also Chardonnay. It is just one of the vintages where the weather so far is working with us and creating slow and even ripening, but really showing the differences based on the block the fruit has come from and even the side of the vine. We have been able to harvest all our blocks separately and with all but one block harvest one side of the vine (in our case South side) and still have healthy fruit on the vine to continue to mature to optimal ripeness on the other side (North Side). What does that do for us? Simply put it maximizes the ripening potential of the entire vineyard gaining complexity and weight. What is especially cool about it this year is that the cool September that we have had has allowed the acidity to hold on and sugars to accumulate slower then the flavors and phenolics meaning balanced wines with moderate alcohol, crisp acidity and intense flavors and aromatics. Using Chardonnay as an example, in just two vineyards we have harvested Chardonnay 8 times.
So what's next? With the coming rain we have decided it is time to bring in some Merlot that is simply incredible prior to the rain. The fruit is over the top ripe, great ripe seeds and skins and also at moderate potential alcohol (13-13.5%) and maintaining bright acidity. We are also bringing in our Tannat which is the first of the year that we expect to show some of the alcohol levels we were anticipating in August with those hot days. We will see. We are also thinking we will bringing in the South side of our Syrah vines as they have developed some incredible richness over the last week. This will leave us with some more Merlot and Syrah still our there as well as all of our Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to weather this light rain we might have. They simply want more time, look good and will likely be harvested in 2-3 weeks from now.
All said, harvest has just been slow moving. What we normally do in 6 weeks we are now looking at closer to 10-11 weeks. It has just left us more time for true precisions winemaking an true attention to detail. A great year to learn more about our terroir in different blocks and put together the very best wines.
September 18, 2012
OK...So this is already a little outdated as I wrote it on last Friday and life changes fast in harvest world. More to come, enjoy!
It is that fun time of year again. Harvest! The number one question we hear this time of year is, what is this years vintage like. My answer is alway the same, "incomplete". We can all make our predictions as to the quality of the vintage but until the last grape is safely brought into the winery, the vintage can not be declared anything but incomplete. The second you say it is great, Mother Nature can beat you up and make you a liar.
Now that said, as we look at how 2012 is shaping up so far, my prediction is that it will be a mixed bag. After 2011 and it's relentless rain at harvest, we as winemakers are a little gun shy. The 2011 vintage looked to be shaping into a vintage of incredible rich wine much like 2010, but then came Irene. Irene said she would only drop a couple inches then go away. Well she may have, but she left behind her rain clouds to keep going until her ugly sister Lee came and sat over us for what seemed like ever. Long story short, we got a lot of rain that took the harvest from rich and exotic to light and soft.
This year has had it's similarities to almost every year I have seen since being in Virginia. The big differentiating factor was the wildly early start. We saw a beautiful cool, dry Spring and even June through flowering and fruit set. There really was not extremes. There was slight frost scares on a few occasions, but what I am finding is it simply balanced the fruit to be slightly lower yields then normal, but of better concentration potential. It didn't cause secondary fruit or anything wild, just great balance stopping greed. The we saw similarities to 2010 and early 2011 with some be extreme heat through July and most of August. This is when everyone started getting pretty excited and ancy. Sugars were coming up fast, acids were declining, veraison (when the grapes change color and ripening really excelerates) was early and it looked like we could have the earliest harvest on record. Well then came bad memories...we saw rain coming! A lot of people rushed to get all their whites in. Lot's of Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. Well, this is where I think the mixed bag will be. Some of this fruit was ready, but lots still was not. It was simply good enough and many didn't want to risk the rain and another potential 2011 let down. It was better at 90%, then if we lost our gamble. So, what did Tarara do? We did what we normally do and went out and selective only harvested the fruit from the vines that we thought was ready and left the rest out there on the gamble. So far I am so glad we did.
We ended up not really getting much rain in our little "Lost Corner" here. On top of that we have then had some of the best ripening weather anyone could ask for. It is a strange year of rush, rush, rush and then wait, wait, wait. We pulled in about 20 (15% of the harvest) tons before any rain and processed it all in about 2 days. Well since then we have not seen a grape in almost two weeks. It is just too nice out and we are able to let everything hang until optimal maturity. Our cool nights are holding the acidity, the sugars are rising slowly and the flavors are just maturing perfectly. As of yesterday I was tasting our Chardonnay and my jaw just dropped. Man it was good. So what is the plan? Reach for the stars! It will hang until Monday with some potential rain on Tuesday and we harvest like crazy. Nothing for two weeks, but then 30 tons to harvest in one day. That is what this year is all about so far. Then the long range looks great so we will likely to the same with our Merlot, Syrah, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is just that type of year so far where we can pick at our leisure. This is where the similarities to 2007 come in.
So if all goes as it looks today, it should be a great vintage, but it is way too early to declare that already. It will be like one I have not seen yet. We have had our extremes of heat and cool. We have had below average rain, and mostly well timed. We have a naturally lower yield and we have had the longest growing season I have yet to see in Virginia by up to a month on some varieties. All this so far has created grapes of impeccable balance with brighter acidity, moderate potential alcohol and luxurious flavors. I can't even predict yet on the tannin structure and color on the reds. I simply can't allow myself to jinx anything.
So with that we hurry up and wait. We will work like crazy at the start of the week, but then we will relax again. I have never left the winery at harvest, but I write this at 35,000 feet on the way to see my awesome cousin get married in Calgary. And you know what? I am not even worried. Everything is in great shape and Tim has whats in the cave under control. So far, all is good!