On Monday, October 7th we picked the last fruit off our estate. On Thursday, October 10th we brought in our last purchased lot for our Patelin de Tablas. And just like that, we're done. Viticulturist Levi Glenn and harvest assistant Jordan Collins clown in front of the last bins (of Mourvedre):
Having everything in the cellar means that we can look cumulatively at the harvest and make some comparative assessments on things like yields, sugars and pH. Taken together, these give us a way of assessing measurable differences between our most recent vintage and others we've seen. Of course, there are differences that are not easily measured by this numerical data; one difference that we note between 2013 and 2012 is that 2013 shows more intensity of color. But even on difficult-to-quantify judgments like this one, the numbers can help shed light: lower yields mean higher skin-to-juice ratios and, other things being equal, produce more intense colors and flavors.
The final yields are definitely down from 2012, though not to the frost-diminished levels of a year like 2011 or 2009. For our principal grapes:
|Grape||2012 Yields (tons)||2013 Yields (tons)||% Change|
Most varieties are down, with the exceptions of Mourvedre and Roussanne, both essentially flat compared to 2012. That we're generally down in 2013 is attributable to a combination of our second consecutive dry winter, a hangover from the large crop that the vines set in 2012, and our efforts to better control the yields on some grapes that set crops larger than we wanted (and larger than expected) in 2012 like Grenache, Grenache Blanc and Vermentino. The comparative tonnages of Mourvedre and Roussanne look better, but that's more of a function of their relatively lower yields in 2012 -- most notably Mourvedre's 20% loss last year to sunburn -- than it is to them showing unexpected vigor in 2013.
Overall yields ended up at 2.66 tons per acre, which is on the low side of average for us. Our ten-year baseline is 2.9 tons per acre, with a high of 3.6 tons/acre in 2006 and a low of 1.9 in 2009. Other years in which we've seen yields between 2.5 and 3 tons per acre have included 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008, all of which have been excellent and have been aging very well.
Looking at average sugars and pH at harvest gives a quick way of measuring a year's ripeness. Since 2007:
|Year||Avg. Sugars ||Avg. pH|
Both of these measures show 2013 quite close to 2012, and it's probably not surprising, as the two years were broadly similar, both warm and dry. The darker colors and more intense flavors, particularly in Grenache, that we're seeing compared to 2012 seems likely due to the yields, rather than ripeness at harvest. It's also interesting (and positive, from our perspective) that we're seeing the intensity of a year like 2007 with sugars a full point and a half lower. This fact supports our experience that as vines age they are better able to achieve full intensity at lower sugar levels.
As I noted in my last mid-harvest report, this year's harvest is both the earliest to end (by nearly three weeks) and of the shortest duration (42 days) since 2001.
Finally, the harvest has been exciting because we've gotten to work with two grapes that are new to us, each celebrating their first harvest anywhere in America. We haven't yet learned much about Clairette Blanche or Terret Noir (except that the "noir" in Terret Noir is a bit of a misnomer) but we have a barrel of each fermenting in the cellar and it's going to be fun to see how they turn out. Here's a peek at the not-very-noir Terret we picked:
Next up for us is the Paso Robles Harvest Festival, which will for the first time in my memory be conducted sans harvest. Maybe this is better; we'll have time to focus on our guests in a way we wouldn't have in recent years. Heck, in both 2010 and 2011 we were less than half picked as of today, and genuinely worried about whether our late-ripening grapes would make it into the cellar. Instead, two of our excellent cellar team members (Madeline Vanlierop-Anderson and Craig Hamm, below) get to have some fun modeling this year's shirts.
We're looking at some frosty nights in the next week, which might mean an early end to the nascent fall foliage. So, I thought I'd leave you with a couple of shots of the vineyard in its autumn colors. The most colorful this year is Syrah:
But it's the contrast in colors which is the most fun, I think. I take this shot nearly every year because it's a great perspective to see two grapes with dramatically contrasting autumn colors: Grenache Blanc, on the left, stays yellow-green until frost, while Syrah, on the right, colors up like a maple tree (Tannat, in the foreground, is kind of in-between)
We'll be enjoying the fact that these colors don't mean the clock is ticking on us... or at least that we're safely across the finish line and don't need to worry about our time.