In the vineyard, things are starting to look genuinely fall-like:
And in keeping with the visuals of the season, we're on the tail end of our harvest craziness, something like 85% done. As of the beginning of this week, we'd harvested 386 tons: 237 from our estate and another 149 for the Patelin. What was left was one good block of Mourvedre (picked today), scraps of the other reds (all of which should be cleaned up by the end of this week), our three small blocks of Tannat (likely to be harvested this and next week), and a good chunk of Roussanne (which will likely be picked in waves into the middle of October; more on that later).
The pace at which we harvested fruit off our estate in September was remarkable. After a relatively slow beginning to harvest (which I discussed on the blog) things picked up serious steam the first week of September, and are only now starting to slow down. It's perhaps easiest to look at it graphically, showing tons of fruit, estate and Patelin, per week:
In many ways, this vintage is shaping up like 2013: it's been a warm year without many heat spikes, we've picked 10 days or 2 weeks early on average, it's a slightly below-average vintage for yields, and looks very high for quality. But unlike 2013, our shortest harvest in a decade, we're likely going to see a more normal full two months between the first and last fruit off our estate. Still, August's slow beginning and October's gradual taper will together account for less than 20% of the harvest, meaning our September peak was one of our busiest periods ever. How busy? The busiest week of 2013 saw us bring in 58 tons off of our estate. Even in 2012, our largest crush ever, no week ever reached the 79 tons we harvested the week of September 15th. And the week of September 8th had already filled the cellar with 70 new tons of fruit.
So, it's not surprising that we felt buried by grapes. We've managed to fit everything into the cellar (more of a challenge than you'd think, given that we typically use a fermentation tank for 5 or 6 sequential lots at harvest -- leaving each lot in the fermenter for some 10 days -- and having nearly all our fruit come in during a 30-day sprint effectively halves our fermentation space). Between the couple of new upright wooden tanks we added last year and a few open-top stainless steel fermenters we hadn't used in a few harvests, we've made it work. The cellar, though, is as full of different fermentation tanks as I've ever seen it:
Yields look very similar to last year. Of the non-Roussanne whites, we've harvested 68.7 tons. Last year saw us bring in 65.4 tons. Of the Rhone reds, at week's beginning we'd brought in 134.5 tons. Last year we finished up with 151.5, but we estimate we've got another dozen tons or so that will trickle in, meaning we'll end up very close to last year's totals. Maybe up a touch in Syrah and Counoise, and down slightly in Mourvedre and Grenache.
The real question for us is Roussanne. This always-challenging grape is being difficult even by its standards this year. We've gone through our principal Roussanne blocks twice already, picking just the ripe clusters, netting a little over 10 tons. We have another selective pick scheduled for tomorrow, and are expecting another 4 tons or so. Still, we're a long way from done. Last year, we harvested 44 tons of Roussanne, accounting for about 40% of our white production. This year, there are a higher than normal number of Roussanne vines that are starting to shut down due to stress, which means that the clusters they carry are ripening more and more slowly. We think that we'll still be able to harvest much (most?) of what's out there, but assuming that all of it will come in seems unreasonably optimistic. We're hoping for 30 tons, total. It seems unfair that the Roussanne looks as nice as it does on the vines, taunting us with its amber beauty despite not being ripe:
So, we wait on Roussanne, and on Tannat, which is looking good but still mostly not quite there. The colors of its foliage, though, suggest that the time is near:
In terms of quality, we continue to be excited by what we're seeing. The berries seem unusually small, the flavors and colors correspondingly intense. The grapes are a bit riper than they've been the last few years, but in good balance. It's looking (dare I say it) a lot like 2007.
And that has to be a good thing.