We've (finally!) started harvesting our reds. We are bringing in Syrah today, and expecting about 10 tons. The fruit looks tremendous: low pH (around 3.35), good sugars (around 25 Brix) and excellent flavors. It seems to me that the grapes have lots of texture and solids rather than lots of juice, which bodes very well for quality, though not so much for quantity. It's possible that our early estimates of a return to normal crop levels may have been wishful thinking.
September 17th is a little late for us to be bringing in our first reds, particularly for a year with smaller yields. Syrah always kicks off our red harvest, but the dates do vary. For the past few years, our first Syrah has come in on:
2008: September 9th
2007: September 6th
2006: September 26th
2005: September 29th
2004: September 3rd
2003: September 18th
It's worth noting the 2005 and 2006 were both very large crops, while 2007 and 2008 both very small. In general, the more fruit you have on a vine, the longer it takes to ripen that fruit. I was interested to see, though, that there doesn't appear to be a huge correlation between the dates of harvest and vintage quality (see the vintage grades I gave out last fall).
This first batch of Syrah is going into our two upright fermenters. It will ferment there for the next ten days or so and then be pressed into smaller barrels. We'll then re-use the uprights for Grenache and Mourvedre.
Earlier this week, we brought in some of our Grenache Blanc and about half our Marsanne. Both came in light in quantity, though the quality looks excellent. We've known, though, that the Grenache Blanc and Viognier were seriously impacted by the spring's frosts, so are reserving judgment before we project these results across the vineyard.
Some photos from the cellar track the progress of the bins of Syrah. First, a bin of fruit (a little over 1000 pounds worth):
Syrah's clusters are noteworthy for their small size, dark blue-black color and tight configuration. That's my hand for scale:
The bins are brought into the cellar via forklift:
And dumped onto the sorting table:
Winemaker Ryan Hebert and Cellar Assistant Chelsea Magnusson toss out any leaves or underripe clusters (there aren't many due to all the sorting that happens during the hand-harvest) and push the fruit gradually into the destemmer:
The berries and juice are pumped to the 1500-gallon upright fermenters in the next room:
...and up into the top of the tank. Note that this door can be opened for loading as well as pumpovers or punchdowns, or sealed up for aging:
And finally, a look at the uprights in position in the cellar. The slightly smaller 1200-gallon foudres are stacked in the background: