Most vintages, harvest starts slowly, with a few bins the first day, then a little break, then a selective pick off another block, then another break, then finally a larger picking, then another break. Not this year. We started on September 4th with our first lot of Viognier for the 2012 Patelin Blanc, and by a week later, we'd already brought in just over 85 tons of fruit, including Viognier, Syrah, Marsanne and Roussane for the Patelin program, and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Syrah, Vermentino and even a first picking of Roussanne off of our estate. A shot I took today in the cellar will give you a sense of the complexity of the cellar dance, with reds (in this case some of the Patelin Syrah we received on September 6th) being pressed as whites (in this case, bins of Vermentino off the western edge of our property) are arriving:
Yes, this volume at the front end of harvest is unusual. By comparison, the first 8 days of harvest brought in 32 tons last year, 20 tons in 2010, 10 tons in 2009, 26 tons in 2008 and 15 tons in 2007. A scene like the one below, with dozens of bins of Syrah sitting outside the winery waiting to be destemmed (from September 6th) is much more typical of mid-October than early September:
The weather has been warm, though it's moderated since early August's serious heat. In September so far, we've had 9 days that have topped out in the 90's, 8 days that have topped out in the 80's, and only one day that topped out in the 70's. This is a dramatic change from the last two vintages, which saw significantly cooler temperatures at harvest time, but is more or less normal for Paso Robles. And we really haven't seen any extremes; this month we've only had 13 hours with temperatures over 95 and only 5 nights that dropped into the 40's, so the vines are continuing to photosynthesize rather than shutting down either due to cold or to conserve water in the heat.
Yields, so far, look somewhat higher than we were expecting, maybe 10%-15% larger than average, though still below the highs of a vintage like 2005, 2006 or 2010. We've already harvested twice as much Viognier off our vineyard (with a few blocks still to go) as we did all of last year's frost-decimated crop. Of course, much will depend on the Mourvedre and the Roussanne, both of which seem to be a bit lower this year.
It's a winery truism that when you think yields are down, they're down more than you thought, and when you think yields are good, they're up more than you thought.
For the Patelin, we're expeting more Syrah, as well as our first Grenache and Grenache Blanc in the next week or so, while at home, it looks like reds other than Syrah may still be a while yet. Walking through the Grenache blocks still shows a lot of pink berries -- and even the occasional green one -- rather than the deep red we'd expect at harvest. Counoise is the same. Mourvedre looks closer to ready, but is still low in sugar and developing flavors. Meanwhile, we're pressing off the Syrah that came in the first week and making space. We thank the cellar assistants like Wade Johnson (below) for making the necessary room.