It's a Wonderful Day in the Patelin (and we have photos to prove it)
Why Paso Robles will make California's best wines in 2011

Harvest, Weeks of September 26th and October 3rd: Things Ramp Up and then Pause for Rain

After a slow start to harvest, the accumulation of warm days produced a rush at the end of September.  Between September 26th and October 4th, we harvested 112 tons of fruit, including most of what will go into our Patelin Blanc (mostly Viognier and Grenache Blanc) and perhaps half of what will go into our Patelin (mostly Syrah).  We also brought in 28 tons of estate fruit, principally Vermentino, Roussanne and Chardonnay, though also a little Syrah, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and even Grenache Noir.  Two photos from that period will give a sense of what we were working on.  First, a photo of bins of Grenache Blanc lined up outside the winery, waiting to be pressed:


And then a photo of our destemmer, working on Syrah.  Our newest piece of equipment for this year's harvest is a vibrating conveyor to even out the flow of clusters to the destemmer.  Rather than a traditional conveyor belt, with moving parts and hinges that are almost impossible to keep clean, this is a slightly inclined stainless steel channel that vibrates, moving the clusters downhill toward the destemmer in an even flow.  It's been a remarkable success, reducing the number of clusters that have made it through the destemmer undestemmed and producing nicer-looking berries with less stem particles:


Just as it looked like all of the 2011 harvest was going to come tumbling in in a rush, the weather changed.  A storm front on Monday, October 3rd dropped a negligible amount of rain (0.08 inches) but paved the way for a larger storm on Wednesday, October 5th.  This second storm dropped 1.6 inches of rain on the vineyard, not insignificant for early October, and we haven't harvested anything significant since. 

With mid-harvest rainfall, you worry not so much about what happens with the rain as you do about what happens after.  If it stays wet and cloudy, you can have outbreaks of rot spread quickly through the vineyard.  Happily, the storm blew through quickly and by that afternoon the sun was out and the wind was blowing.  I took the below video, in which you can hear the wind whipping the vine leaves, less than 12 hours after the rain stopped:

A little rain during harvest can actually be a good thing in these conditions, as the water invigorates the vines and actually increases their ability to ripen the grapes that they hold.  But it typically puts at least a brief stop to the harvest as the grapes swell with the new water and then need at least a few days to reconcentrate.

Since the rain came a week ago, the weather has been mostly clear and dry, but not that warm, with daily highs generally in the 70's.  We've resumed testing around our own vineyard and with the vineyards with whom we're working on Patelin, and it looks like we'll resume harvesting on Thursday.  It is forecast to warm up the rest of this week, which should accelerate the process.  Meanwhile, we've been pressing off some of last week's harvest, which looks and smells great.  The photo below is Syrah in the press, wonderfully inky and minerally in the cellar:


So far, we've harvested just under 50 tons of estate fruit (about 15% of the 350 we're expecting off Tablas Creek Vineyard) and about 110 tons of purchased fruit (about 70% of the 160 tons we're expecting to contract for in total).  So our focus over the next few weeks will turn to our own vineyard.  Look for lots more Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne over the next 10 days, any hopefully the first Mourvedre.