Autumn Foliage, Paso Robles Style
When wine tasting, step away from the carafe

Harvest 2012 concludes, and we couldn't be happier

We finished the 2012 harvest yesterday, with the last "clean-up" pick, where we go back through the late-ripening blocks where we left the clusters that weren't quite ready on our previous time through.  Typically, these pickings are a little ugly, with fruit not in the best condition, and there are times when they don't make it into our estate wines.  But this year, even this final pick came in looking great and with nice numbers.  This is a fitting summation of the 2012 harvest: consistently high quality from beginning to end, and across all the varieties we grow.  With the last of the year's roughly 750 red bins on the sorting table, Jake Miller, Tyler Elwell, Levi Glenn and Charlie Chester smile up over the last bin of Grenache:

Last bin of grenache 2012

The final yields look very much like those from 2010, a little higher on the whites and a little lower on the reds, much more than they resemble the frost-diminished 2011 or 2009 vintages. By varietal:

Grape 2010 Yields (tons) 2012 Yields (tons) % Change
Viognier 22.5 21.2 -5.8%
Marsanne 13.2
Grenache Blanc* 34.8
Picpoul Blanc 9.4
Vermentino* 19.1
Total Whites 132.9
Grenache 71.1
Syrah 47.7
Mourvedre* 69.3
Tannat 14.5
Counoise 16.8
Total Reds 219.4
Total 352.3
* denotes varieties with increased acreage since 2010

The yields per acre are actually a touch lower than 2010 (about 3.4 tons/acre instead of 3.5) as we brought about 6 additional acres into full production in the last two years, divided more or less evenly between Vermentino, Grenache Blanc and Mourvedre.  Looking variety by variety, two changes seem to demand some explanation.  The increase in Roussanne comes because some (maybe as much as a quarter) of our Roussanne didn't make it in the cool, damp, late 2010 vintage and was lost to rot.  That was the only variety to be so affected in 2010.  And the decline in the Mourvedre harvest this year seems to me attributable to the sunburn that afflicted Mourvedre disproportionately in the two weeks of heat in early August.  Mourvedre tends to be relatively light in canopy, and can therefore be damaged by sunburn more easily than leafier varieties.  Based on how similar other grapes were to their 2010 numbers, that suggests we lost something like 20% of our Mourvedre harvest, or roughly 12 tons, to that heat.

We target yields between 3 and 3.5 tons per acre as the sweet spot for expression of place.  Too much more than that and you compromise your intensity.  Too much less and the wines can be so dense that they express the fruit and structure more than the soil.  Of course, we take what we get; our yields in 2011 were about 2.3 tons per acre.

Sugar levels at harvest did climb a bit from the lows we saw in 2011, but are still on the lower side of what we've seen historically.  This is consistent with our belief that older vines produce full flavors at lower sugar levels than young vines do.  Our average Brix at harvest since 2007:

2007: 24.42 avg. Brix
2008: 23.87 avg. Brix
2009: 23.42 avg. Brix
2010: 22.68 avg. Brix
2011: 22.39 avg. Brix
2012: 22.83 avg. Brix

Delving deeper into the sugar levels, the average sugars at harvest of our principal varieties this year were:

Counoise: 22.8
Grenache Noir: 24.3
Grenache Blanc: 21.7
Marsanne: 18.7
Mourvèdre: 23.3
Picpoul Blanc: 22.6
Roussanne: 22.3
Syrah: 24.2
Tannat: 23.7
Vermentino: 20.9
Viognier: 21.3

The pH at harvest was healthy, averaging 3.65pH.  For some context, our average pH at harvest since 2007 has been:

2007: 3.67 pH
2008: 3.64 pH
2009: 3.69 pH
2010: 3.51 pH
2011: 3.50 pH
2012: 3.65 pH

In duration, the harvest was somewhat short compared to usual, taking 55 days between the beginning (September 5th) and the end (October 31st).  By contrast, 2011's harvest took 51 days, 2010 took 59 days, 2009 took 64 days, 2008 took 58 days and 2007 took 66 days.

The quality of the fruit looks tremendous, and the lots we harvested in early Sepetmber already tasting good: luscious yet with balance.  We'll learn a lot more over coming weeks as the later-ripening lots finish fermentation and start becoming tasteable, but we're happy with what we're seeing. 

For the next couple of weeks we'll enjoy the aromas of the last of our lots fermenting in the cellar, and our winemaking team of Neil Collins, Ryan Hebert and Chelsea Magnusson will be start the long process of evaluating what we've got and starting to piece together the first blends.  But that's all in the future, and for now, we'll join the cellar and vineyard team (from left, below: Tyler Elwell, Gustavo Prieto, the back of Jake Miller's head, Ryan Hebert, David Maduena, and Charlie Chester) and celebrate:

End of 2012 harvest - vineyard