"Waiting for what?",one might ask. Well, how about some heat and grape sugar(Brix), for starters. Wineries we sell the 95% of our grapes to all ask the same question and all wonder "what in the heck is going on?". Obviously we are all somewhere between 2-3 weeks behind in ripening, but an interesting phenomenon is occuring... at least here on Paso Robles' Westside, and in particular, in our vineyard. Usually our red grapes ripen, and then hang...and hang...and then hang somemore. Last year our Cab Sauv was ready to pick, along with Merlot and Syrah at or near Oct 1st. But, since we, like most other high end wineries don't pick on Brix, but rather on flavor, we waited...and waited, and waited for the flavors to come in. Having ripe grapes on Oct 1st meant we could harvest anytime, but our grapes were just completely, totally without flavor.
So what is going on this yr? Well, we actually had flavor come into our Pinot the first of Sept, but it is now Sept 23, 8 days past every other yr when our Pinot ripened and was picked. Grapes, seeds...all ripe. Brix? How about a strong 22.8. Our best Pinot(remember we are picking on flavor, but follow the Brix, nonetheless) always ripened first, and then, magically on Sept 15 the flavors came in...luscious cherry, a touch of blueberry, some strawberry, cassis...but this yr, flavors have been drifting in, appearing slowly, not en masse, but the Brix has lagged way, way behind. Normal Pinot here is 23.5 to 24.5 when we pick, but a week past normal harvest, we still are only at 22.8 Brix, but with some lovely early flavors. This may be like a Bordeaux yr, where they frequently end up harvesting at lower Brix, 23.5, maybe 24.5, and that is for Bordeauxs, not Pinot(Burgundy). I am almost forced to begin to think the wonderful flavors we have been so blessed with may actually precede the ripened grapes.
Surely that is the case in our Merlot(20 Brix) , Cab (21 Brix), and Syrah(20 Brix). Looking at the berries, which are starting to shrivel, and based on color...deep inky purple black...we should be ripe, and probably at 23, maybe 24 Brix right now, but no...we are sitting at 20-21 Brix. The long cold summer following the long, first warm, then cold, wet winter has obviously upset the apple cart...er, make that the grape cart. It is apparent that the grapes are confused at present, and aren't sure whether to, ahem..."either go to the bathroom", or get off the pot. Frankly, I think our grapes are as confused as we are. One other minor...okay, major problem we have, is that it always freezes in our valley vineyard on Sept 15, and then that is followed by 3+ weeks of Indian summer, which we are encouterning now. This Sept 15, however, we only had lows of 34 degrees, followed by a 95 degree day, and that has been our coldest day yet, for the lows. We are set and ready to pick the valley Pinot and Sauv Blanc, but with no frost yet(knock on wood) we don't have to pick...soooo...I am guessing we harvest Pinot this coming Mon or Tues(assuming no frost first).
A couple wineries I know started harvest 10 days ago, then abruptly stopped after first day when it became apparent the Pinot just wasn't ready. Meanwhile, we all sit here, singing intonations and incantations, with fingers crossed, prayers on lips, and the Gods of grapes are looking down, laughing at us. I have to admit it isn't funny ha-ha, but it is funny weird. Never a day goes by when I don't learn something brand new, fascinating, and exhilarating. Well, I am over fascinated and exhilarated at present. This teasing deal is getting old. Please, let's get on with the harvest. To do that, a fair number of westside grapes are going to have to ripen first.
My prediction? Syrah, Cab, and Merlot, which we waited some 3 weeks on last yr as the Brix went up and up, and then up some more, somewhere around 26.8 to 27.5(port, anyone)...well, that Brix with flavor is going to be somewhere around the 23.5 to 24.5 Brix this yr, much like vineyards near my aunt's bakery, in Bordeaux. I really see this as a low Brix yr, with flavors dragging in, instead of ripe grapes waiting for the flavor to come in , as happened last yr...as well as most previous yrs. I honestly believe that our Brixes will all top out at no more than 24.5, but that is within keeping of the appearance of the saggy grapes, and the extremely early flavors...that we usually have to wait for.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Maybe I am getting the wrong impression, but during a drive down Vine Street in Paso today, I saw a magnificent Chinese Pistache tree...in 85% full orange plume. Oregon Plum trees(ornamental) and Chinese Pistache tend to go off together, the former in red and the latter in orange...but never on Sept 7th. It usually is much later in October that these two harbingers of Fall go thru their magnificent color change. Another piece to the weather puzzle is that all our poison oak is either in full red or has already lost all its leaves...something that happens usually late, late in Fall. So there are signs out there...ominous ones, that portend an early Fall, and more importantly, an early frost. For us that would mean Pinot Noir and Sauv Blanc, but we have harvested Pinot on Sept 15 every yr since 2001. Two weeks ago, we roared thru a very late veraison in Pinot, and the very next week our grapes had seeds starting to get brown and crispy. In a usual yr, that all happens slowly, methodically, over time. This yr is just like a jailbreak with veraison being 3-4 weeks behind, and then rapidly catching up. Grapes are already sweet, but not yet ready for Brixing. Probably most are at 20 to 21 Brix.
So, during my 33 yrs here in Paso, I have never seen the likes of this, nor has the East Coast seen the likes of their heat wave. No matter where you look, everyone, everywhere has different weather than they have had in yrs. Meanwhile, we here at Cerro Prieto watch, wait...and yes, do worry about what the next 3-4 weeks will bring. With our crop load pruned to 2.5 T/acre (or less in some blocs), if anyone ripens here, we should. But as everyone knows, "would have" and "should have" are not too very far apart, but yield vastly different outcomes for grapes. Our higher blocs are pretty much immune, but the cold of the inland valleys is a concern. Right now, I am looking at Sept 15 again for our Pinot, but it could drag on a week longer. With flavor already in the tiny beries, I like our chances for some outstanding Pinot. Sauv Blanc will be the suprise, in that this is our first harvest, altho it will be no more than half ton/acre.
I tried valiantly to get our '08 Pinot, Cab, Merlot and Syrah in bottle before surgery, but failed...so it probably won't get bottled until sometime past harvest. That's a shame, because I am really excited about all those wines, especially the Syrah, about which one well known winemaking consultant said, "Wow, that's a big wine." No kidding, Dick Tracy. Even tho our '07s are probably going to be better than our '06 International Gold medal and 92 point wines, it looks like our '08s are going to be better yet. Man, talk about excited...well, yes, actually, I am. We really need to get those '08s into bottles so they can lay down for six months. They are ready to drink right now, which is great news for all our wine club members, as well as friends and family. For 2010 we are holding our breath...but I sense something great on those vines. Nature just has to let it ripen a bit more first. My guess? It will.