Note from the Cellar: Week of October 19th
Enjoying fall foliage while putting the vineyard to bed

Harvest 2009 Evaluation and Recap

The 2009 harvest is done.  In the barn.  Finally.  At 64 days (beginning September 1st and ending November 3rd) it was our second-longest harvest this decade.  The only longer harvest, 2004, also saw the end of the harvest delayed by rain.

The weather during harvest was challenging, to say the least.  After a relatively cool early summer and a hot July, we entered into a pattern of roughly two weeks of unusually hot weather followed by two weeks of unusually cool weather.  One of these heat spikes came in late September, which added to the stress of the vineyard and led to us bringing in 50 tons (a quarter of our harvest) in the last week of September.  Cooler weather returned in early October to allow a more leisurely pace of harvest, but was followed by a fluke fall storm that dropped 10 inches of rain on the vineyard on October 13th.  The storm was well forecast, and we were able to bring in 70 tons of ripe fruit the week before the rain.  The clouds cleared and late October saw our best weather of the harvest season: consistent days in the 80s and nights in the low 40s.  This perfect weather allowed the fruit that was out in the rain to reconcentrate, and we resumed harvesting on October 27th and completed the harvest on November 3rd.

Overall, the harvest will be remembered as difficult and light, but it looks like the quality should be very good.  The yields are our lowest since 2001.  We brought in 198 tons, down 24% compared to 2008 and 38% from our high-water mark of 319 tons in 2005.  This lower tonnage is despite our getting our first production from the Scruffy Hill section of the vineyard: a head-pruned, dry-farmed 10-acre block on the south side of Tablas Creek. Final tonnages for 2009 for our principal varietals were:

Grape 2009 Yields (tons) 2008 Yields (tons) % Change
Viognier 12.2 19.4 -37.1%
Marsanne 5.3
Grenache Blanc 19.9
Picpoul Blanc 5.2
Vermentino 5.5
Total Whites 89.6
Grenache 35.8
Mourvedre 35.8
Tannat 5.8
Counoise 8.3
Total Reds 107
Total 196.6

Three factors, at least, led to the low yields.  First was drought.  We had our third consecutive drought year in Paso Robles, with rainfall totals last winter only about 60% of normal.  Second was frost.  We had our most damaging frost since 2001, impacting an estimated 35% of the vineyard.  Third was dehydration.  We had a heat spike in September, which caused rapid dehydration of the grape clusters and led to low cluster weights.  We avoided a fourth contributing factor; 24 tons of fruit were still on the vines when the big storm hit on October 13th and could easily have been lost to rot, but the terrific weather in late October saved us.

Thanks to the ingenuity of our winemaking team we also were able to use our greenhouses to concentrate an additional 7 tons of fruit that we didn't believe would survive the rain on the vines.  We picked three lots -- two of Roussanne and one of Counoise -- that were nearly but not quite ripe and brought them into the greenhouse to get a little additional concentration.  These nine tons entered the cellar a week or two later (for photos of and more information on the greenhouse project, check out Chelsea Magnusson's Note from the Cellar from last week).

So, yields could easily have been worse.  This was certainly a vintage where the quality of the vineyard and winemaking team mattered a lot: between the heat, the cold, the rain, the uneven ripening and the low yields there were more potential pitfalls than any vintage of which I've been a part.  It's a real testament to Neil, Ryan, Chelsea, and David (our cellar and vineyard team) that what we have in the cellar looks as good as it does.  And quality looks remarkable.  The wines are intensely colored and have very deep flavors.  Alcohols are lower than in past years; the average degree Brix this year was 23.4, down from 23.9 last year and 24.3 in 2007.  The wines have wonderful lushness, probably a consequence of the exceptionally low yields.  Overall, we averaged just under 2 tons per acre, with Syrah and Mourvedre (normally both relatively vigorous) among the lowest yielding, at 1.6 and 1.7 tons per acre, respectively.

It's too early to know how the different lots will play out over the course of the winter.  But it seems likely that given the low yields and the high quality, there will be very little Cotes de Tablas this year.  Esprit (both red and white) seems safe.  Stay tuned as we fit the pieces together...