Celebrating 11 New AVA's in Paso Robles
Every now and then you get a particularly meaningful compliment...

We cruise toward the end of the earliest Paso Robles harvest since 2001

It's getting hard to find a vineyard block with fruit still on it.  As of the beginning of October, we'd harvested all of our non-Roussanne whites and our Syrah, and nearly all of our Mourvedre, Grenache and Roussanne.  The only grape that's hanging a majority of its fruit still out is Counoise, and we only have 3 acres of that.  We're something like 90% done as of this morning, and expect to be completely finished by early next week.  The Counoise, looking pretty in yesterday's late afternoon sun:

End Sept - Counoise on Vine 2

The last two weeks of September we brought in most of our Grenache, Mourvedre and Roussanne.  It's normal these days to have us pressing reds that are dry or nearly so and moving them to barrel, cleaning the tanks they were in and filling them right back up with newly de-stemmed reds that have just been picked, all while also picking and pressing whites.  The cellar dance is remarkable, often with multiple forklifts moving bins of grapes around.  We've been using our entire 7-person team most days.  A shot from yesterday shows three different red lots (our last Grenache lot for the Patelin, and Mourvedre and Counoise from our estate vineyard) organized on the crushpad while the red press works to make space:

End Sept - Busy crushpad

For us, the quality of the harvest is always most determined by the quality of the Mourvedre we pick, as that is our most-planted grape and the showcase variety in our Esprit red.  What we're getting this year looks marvelous: rich and meaty, with very thick skins and enough acidity to keep things in balance.  It's amazing that the grapes are this complex given that we're picking them nearly a month earlier than normal.  One of yesterday's bins:

End Sept - Mourvedre

It really has been a compressed harvest.  The only year since 2000 that we finished harvest before October 28th was in 2001, when a frost-reduced crop was ripened quickly by a very warm summer.  This year, it looks like we'll pick our last grapes sometime around a week from now, which would make our last picking October 9th.  That would make the harvest just 44 days long, about 23% shorter than our 57-day average over the last decade.

Each ripening and harvest marker point has gotten farther and farther ahead of normal: flowering, a few days; veraison, a week; first picking, 10 days; last picking, 3 weeks).  We attribute this to the consistently warm but not hot summer we've seen.  Grapevines ripen their fruit optimally on days that top out between 85 and 95.  On hotter days, they stop photosynthesis and close the pores in their leaves to conserve moisture.  On cooler days, they spend too much of their time (late evening, night and mornings) under the 70-degree threshold below which ripening is very slow.  This year we've seen optimal ripening conditions, with an average high temperature since mid-July of 88 degrees, only one day that topped 100, and only seven that failed to reach the 80's.  This level of consistency over this long a stretch is unprecedented in our experience.

We have seen things cool down over the last week or so, with nights generally in the low 40's and a couple that even squeaked into the 30's.  We're pleased to see the cooler weather, with the vineyard nearly all ready to pick and us tight on space in the cellar.  The cool nights also encourage the vines to color up for fall.  Click on the Roussanne (left) and Mourvedre (right) photos below for a larger illustrations of the different fall colors we're starting to see.

End Sept - Roussanne Leaf End Sept - Mourvedre Leaf 2
Quality really does look tremendous.  We're starting to hear comparisons to 2007, which is the best vintage here in the last decade, and I think they're warranted.  The wines are remarkably deep in both color and flavor, with good acids and substantial but ripe tannins.  It's going to be a pleasure putting the blends together.

Yields are coming in lower than we expected, down perhaps a third from 2012's large crops, and will likely fall just below 2.5 tons/acre.  That's in keeping with 2007, too.

When we're done next week, I'll have a more complete recap with year-over-year comparisons by grape and by block, and will step back to look at some bigger picture questions.  Until then, we'll enjoy the beautiful days and cool nights, our last chance to see grapes on the vine for 2013, and make sure that there's actually space in the cellar for the last grapes we're picking. 

Final question: if there's no more harvesting to do during Harvest Festival, is it still a harvest festival?