The first half of October is typically our busiest stretch of harvest, and 2012 was no exception. Between October 1st and 15th, we brought in 107 tons off of our estate and another 60 tons of purchased fruit for the Patelin de Tablas line. That's something like 30% of our expected 550-ton total, in just two weeks. It was routine for us to be pressing both whites (mostly Roussanne, at this stage) and reds (mostly Syrah and Grenache) then turning around the very same tanks and destemming other reds into them. You get a sense of the complicated dance involved with the below photo, where we have Grenache in the press and Roussane bins arriving.
At the end of September, we'd finished picking Viognier, Marsanne and Syrah off our estate, largely finished Grenache Blanc, and gotten a good start on Roussanne. By mid-October we'd finished off the Grenache Blanc, started and finished Picpoul, nearly finished Roussanne, made a lot of progress on Tannat and Grenache, and begun Counoise and Mourvedre. We paused briefly for the rain on October 12th, which amounted to about a quarter-inch and didn't do much beyond wash some dust off the grapes, and used the couple of days of not harvesting to press off tanks and free up fermentation space in the cellar.
That challenge -- finding space to put the new fruit when most things are full of actively fermenting grapes -- has been the major issue with this harvest. Most every lot has come in about 20% heavier than our estimates, and the relatively compressed harvest compounds the challenge. Most red lots need ten days or so on their skins during fermentation, and so if all your fermenters are full of lots that are less than ten days from when they were picked, what do you do? Whites are less of a challenge, just because they can go straight into barrels if need be, but reds need to go into some sort of tank. Happily, the weather has not been hot, with the average high temperature between October 1st and 15th just 79 degrees. Nights dropped into the 40's twelve out of the fifteen days, further keeping progress gradual, and in these benign conditions we've chosen to leave things out in the vineyard an extra day or two rather than pressing lots off a day or two early.
We've also filled our greenhouses with Roussanne and Grenache Blanc to make Vin de Paille [more on the process here]. This traditional method for making sweet wines concentrates the juice and gives the sweetness of late-harvest without the baked flavors. The newly-harvested Roussanne grapes sit on the straw below:
We keep pushing up our yield estimates, and are now thinking that we'll see yields around 3.5 tons per acre across our vineyard, just slightly below what we saw in 2010. The main difference between the two vintages is that 2010 was an exceptionally cool year, while 2012 has been warmer than average. This suggests that the character we'll see out of the fruit will be show the lusher yet structured flavors of a warm, higher-production year like 2000 or 2005 more than the minerally, more spice-driven 2006's or 2010's.
With the turn toward cooler weather in early October, it's definitely feeling like fall in the vineyard. The Syrah and Mourvedre vines are starting to turn color, and the lower angle of the sun and the warmer tones of the light are noticeably different than even a month ago. You get a sense from the below photo:
We're ready for things to wind down, too, and expect to be done with harvest by the end of next week. A September start date and an October end date is what is supposed to happen, but something we've only seen once since 2003. We couldn't be happier with where we are.