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Harvest 2013 begins, fast and slightly less furious than 2012

In my last pre-harvest assessment, written the first of August, I predicted that based on our veraison dates we'd start between August 25th and September 4th.  And I was right, but only barely.  It was August 26th when we brought in our first estate lots: two different Viognier blocks.  That was followed by our first Syrah the next day, Vermentino the day after that and suddenly (bam!) we were in the thick of harvest. 

August was consistently warm, which produced the relatively short time between veraison and harvest. Average daily high temperatures were 90°.  Only one day (August 6th) failed to make it at least into the 80's, and it topped out at 79.9°. At the same time, it hasn't been hot enough to force the vines to shut down; we've only topped 100° once, on August 14th, and only barely, at 101.1°.  The result has been perfect ripening conditions, and the vines responded.

We've reconstituted our cellar team over the last few months and think it's the strongest we've ever had.  From left, below, veterans Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Cellarmaster Tyler Elwell and Winemaker Neil Collins are joined by our two newest additions: Craig Hamm and Madeline Vanlierop-Anderson.

Winemaker Gothic - 2013 Harvest Team

This week, the second week of our harvest, we've brought in the rest of the Viognier and Vermentino, more Syrah, our first Grenache Blanc and Picpoul, and the first-ever picking off our tiny Clairette Blanche block.  We're trying to be more organized, and have been keeping an old-school chalkboard busy with our daily updates.  Note the Clairette Blanche at the bottom; it's California's first:

Harvest Chalkboard with Clairette

We've also been working to harvest more at night and early in the morning, when the grapes are cooler and the oxidation pressures are minimal.  This has turned out to be better in unexpected ways as well; our crew is happier because it's cool out and the many vineyard insects are dormant, it makes for better flow in the cellar because the first press load is in the press and running before the bulk of the winemaking team even arrives, and the staggered shifts we've been working mean everyone isn't here the same long hours driving each other crazy.  Long hours, sure... but varied ones.  A few photos (taken by Marketing Coordinator Lauren Cross) will give you a sense of the feel of a nighttime harvest. We pick using LED head lamps and the lights of the tractors.  No tower lights for us:

Night Harvest harvesting

The hand-harvested grapes are dumped into bins which our vineyard tractor then delivers to the crushpad.

Night Harvest tractor moving

To work in the cool and dark rather than the baking sun, and to do so knowing that the result will be wines that are fresher and more vibrant, is great.

Night Harvest headlights

Our sense all along has been that our yields will be down some from last year, and with two grapes finished, we have some confirmation: Viognier is down 21% and Vermentino down 33% compared to last year.  Of course, last year wasn't normal; we harvested the most total tons off our property ever, although because we've brought a few additional blocks into production, our tons per acre were slightly behind the record levels of 2005 and 2006.  Vermentino was even more unusually productive than our other grapes last year, but the Viognier seems representative, and we're estimating a decline from last year's 370 tons to something around or just over 300 tons this year.  Over our 109 acres in production, that will give us something right in our target zone of just under 3 tons per acre.  Recent years where we've ended up right around that yield per acre have been very strong, and include 2000, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008.

With 57 tons in off the property, we're something approaching 20% of the way done with harvest.  That's a full two weeks ahead of last year, and it seems like we might be mostly done by early October.  If so, it will be our earliest finish since 2001, when we finished a frost-reduced harvest on October 3rd.  Since then, our earliest harvest end date was October 28th, and we've stretched into November as often as not.

The quality looks tremendous.  The grapes are coming in with ideal sugars and pH levels, and looking and tasting juicy and intense.  It's early days, to be sure, but we're excited to be where we are.