It has begun - Harvest 2012! This week the Talley Vineyards crew picked the first load of Pinot Noir grapes. The fruit came from West Rincon Vineyard and will be used for a special, top-secret bubbles project. Even though we picked only a small amount of grapes, the feeling that harvest has begun is unmistakable.
Harvest is my favorite time of year and I can honestly say it is why I love the wine industry so much. This time of year is filled with critical picking decisions, mornings that begin long before the sun rises, consumption of massive amounts of coffee, long hours of work followed by very little sleep, hurried meals eaten at odd hours or no meals at all, and a complete lack of a social life. That is harvest in a nutshell and while it might sound like torture, I truly look forward to it. It is an amazing thing to witness a group of people, everyone from the vineyard crew to the winery crew, sacrifice so much in order to make the best wine possible.
This year we couldn’t have hoped for a better growing season and the fruit looks first-rate. We will continue to bring in small amounts of Pinot Noir grapes here and there over the next two weeks. By the time September rolls around, harvest will be rolling as well. The winery will be filled with Pinot Noir fermenters as far as the eye can see and the winery crew will be busy with punch downs. The Chardonnay grapes should be ready to harvest beginning in late September and continuing through October. That will be followed by the Bordeaux grapes we harvest from Paso Robles. If everything goes according to plan, harvest will finally be done by Thanksgiving and everyone will enjoy some hard earned rest.
|The 2012 winery crew samples the free run juice from the first pressing of pinot noir grapes.|
This week we started grape sampling our Pinot Noir blocks in West Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyards. Now that we are at nearly 90% veraison (almost all the pinot berries have changed color from green to purple), it’s time to start watching the sugar and acid levels to determine when each block is ready to be harvested.
Our harvest intern, Patrick, spends the early mornings walking the vineyard rows of 10 to 20 different blocks to sample a mix of grape clusters that accurately represent the maturity of each block. Once the grapes arrive at the winery they go through a mini crusher and are strained into beakers to be tested in the lab. We measure sugar levels in degrees Brix using a digital densitometer and we measure acidity with a pH meter. Check out our video with our Assistant Vineyard Manger, Travis Monk.
Rosemary’s Vineyard is the furthest along, with a few blocks at 22 Brix and a pH of 3.05, putting us just a couple weeks away from harvest. Generally we pick our Pinot at around 25 Brix and a pH of 3.4, but our picking decisions are not made just by looking at the numbers. Flavor maturity, tannin development and visual cues in the vineyard are all key factors in the decision-making before every pick.
It feels like harvest is right around the corner. Although it will be over a month until the first grapes are picked, you can’t help but feel the buzz and anticipation start to build at the winery. After bottling the 2011 Bishop’s Peak Chardonnay and Pinot Noir last week, and now blending and aging the rest of the wines until next year, the work on the 2011 vintage is winding down and the preparations for the 2012 vintage have begun.
New oak barrels have started arriving from our favorite French cooperages, and soon enough we will be dusting off the de-stemmers, presses, and picking bins that have been in hibernation since last fall. The cleaning tasks are not glamorous and are never-ending, but there is nothing like having a sparkling crush pad and freshly power-washed barrel room to get you (or just me!) excited about bringing in those first grapes of the season.
I think most winemakers can agree that the weeks before harvest bring out all kinds of emotions, from hope to excitement to anxiety. With how the 2012 growing season is going so far, it looks like there should be nothing but excitement for the grape quality this year.
Every year around early summer I feel that the previous year’s Pinot Noirs start to turn the corner. The flavors have matured to a point that they start to taste like wine and are no longer as young and awkward tasting as they were in the winter. Once the wines have “turned the corner” the winemaking staff is involved in hours of tastings which ultimately leads to the finale of blending of the various estate and single vineyard wines. This is a great time of year because we can really get a vision of how the vintage faired and honestly, we can see if we did our job in the vineyard and winery.
As much as I love making the Rosemary’s and Rincon Vineyards blends I have to say that I am extremely intrigued when it comes to the Stone Corral Pinot Noir. The Stone Corral Vineyard is unique in that the Talley family collaborated with local winemakers, Stephen Ross Dooley (Stephen Ross Wines) and Don Othman (Kynsi), in a long-term lease arrangement to share the grapes. The vineyard is divided into 5 distinct vineyard blocks, with each block divided into thirds and designated for Talley Vineyards, Stephen Ross Wines and the Kynsi Winery.
Around this time of year the production staff from all three wineries, get together and taste the previous year’s pinot noir from the Stone Corral Vineyard, block by block. I always look forward to this tasting because it clearly shows the influence of the winery’s house style. It amazes me how different the wines are, they are all very distinctive. If I didn’t know, I would swear the pinots were from different vineyards across California. Even though you have the same grapes, the wines are still defined by the winery. I guess that’s what makes this process so interesting for me.
The middle of May marks a weather transition in the Arroyo Grande Valley. The cold harsh winds of early spring give way to foggy mornings and gentle afternoon breezes typical of summer in this area. The vines are flowering and the potential crop for the season is largely determined at this time. Warm, sunny weather means that most berries will be pollinated, the clusters are full, and the crop will be average to above average. Rain or cool cloudy weather leads to poor pollination and a small crop. The weather has been dry since mid April and temperatures warmer than average, implying good pollination and full clusters. Since the number of clusters in the vineyard is higher than average, all indications are for a larger crop for the 2012 season.
To follow the growing season, check out our ongoing series of photographs of an individual chardonnay vine in the East Rincon Vineyard.