Mid-September Harvest Update: Why harvest started earlier than we predicted... and why our frighteningly low early yields may soon improve
Harvest, pushed by the last week of hot weather, has started to move fast. We've brought in nearly 80% of the grapes for our Patelin de Tablas wines, and nearly finished our early white grapes (Viognier, Vermentino, Marsanne) here off the estate. Tuesday, we picked our first estate reds, with two lots of Syrah. The harvest board is growing:
You'll notice that most of the entries on the board are in purple chalk, indicating that they're from purchased fruit. This reflects that most of the vineyards that we buy from for the Patelin wines are ahead of our own estate. It's also a reflection that the grapes on which we base our Patelin wines (Grenache/Viognier for the white, and Syrah/Grenache for the red) ripen at the earlier end of the spectrum, while our two most important grapes for our estate wines (Roussanne and Mourvedre) ripen late.
Why harvest began earlier than we'd predicted
In my veraison post and harvest preview, I predicted an early September start to harvest based on our date of first veraison and the range of times in recent years between veraison and harvest. (The exact range I'd predicted was between August 28th and September 7th.) Instead, we began picking Viognier off our estate on August 26th. Why? First, August was the warmest on record in San Luis Obispo County. Second, our VIognier harvest was exceptionally light. Off of 5.8 producing acres, we harvested just 5.5 tons, less than half of last year's pig-reduced crop. The tiny yields weren't unexpected, but they are unprecedented, and it's unsurprising that the combination of low yields and hot weather resulted in our shortest-ever time between veraison and harvest.
Our only other estate grape to come in in August was Vermentino, which had its own yield issues. We've only picked one block (our cross-hairs, or CH block) but that block, which produced nearly 10 tons last year, yielded just 3.71 tons this year. If not for these two low-yield-accelerated blocks, my prediction for an early-September start to harvest would look better.
Ongoing concerns on yields
We've known since our first Patelin lots of Viognier arrived that the grape was going to be scant, due to the third year of drought and cool, wet weather when it was flowering. Vermentino, though, was a bit of a surprise, and when it came in so light, it started a mild panic in the cellar. We do have two other (smaller) blocks of Vermentino still to be picked, but it's now an open question as to whether or not we'll have enough even to supply a wine club shipment for 2015.
And yet, some things look fine
There are a few elements that are allowing us a glimmer of hope despite the painfully low yields on the grapes we've mostly picked.
First is that the cold, unsettled May that we believe impacted the yields of the early-flowering grapes does not appear to have had the same impact on the later grapes like Roussanne, Mourvedre, and Counoise. These June-flowering grapes look, from our vineyard surveys and our cluster counts, to be more or less in line with last year's yields.
Second is that the head-trained, dry-farmed blocks look fine. I was out on Scruffy Hill yesterday, which is all head-trained and dry-farmed, and the yields looked quite healthy, both in Grenache (below, left) and Mourvedre (below, right):
Third, quality looks super. It's easier to tell at this stage on the reds, where you can look at thickness of skins and depth of color, and the first estate reds we've gotten have been dark, chewy, and flavorful. The initial bins of Syrah off the estate, below, show it well:
Fourth, there are some Patelin vineyards whose yields have been fine, with excellent quality. Take, for example, the Estrella Syrah that came in on 8/21 and 8/22. We'd been hoping for 25 tons, to form the chunky, meaty core of the Patelin red. The vineyard was productive enough that they were able to get us 31 tons. This has helped us mitigate the fact that many other vineyards are seeing lower (and often dramatically lower) yields. This Syrah, in the press, looks and smells great:
The next few weeks will give us a much clearer sense of what 2015 will look like on our own vineyard. We're picking Grenache today, and it looks like we'll have a steady stream of estate lots (Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, our first Roussanne, and maybe even a little Mourvedre) coming in shortly. Stay tuned.