Weekly Roundup for December 22nd: Drinking Better, Wine's Off Days, Anniversaries, and So Much Green

This week, as you've probably heard, was the last week of the holiday-buying season.  Yet in between the endless lists of the right wines for holiday gift giving were some truly interesting tidbits.  Our favorites of the week are below:

An amazing time-lapse video of the changing weather

  • We're just emerging from three weeks of wet weather into a drier pattern.  How wet?  Not overwhelmingly, by total precipitation; we got 7.75 inches over that stretch, an amount not inconceivable for a single winter storm on the coast of California.  But the distribution of that rain was remarkable: our weather station received measurable rainfall fifteen different days of twenty-two, with no more than two consecutive rain-free days.  With that rain came some beautiful clouds and lots of surface fog.  The time-lapse video captured by Biodynamic winery AmByth Estate, in the hilly El Pomar region just east of the town of Templeton, was pretty amazing.

And evidence of the rain's positive impacts

Adelaida Green  Frick ponds

  • The landscape here in Paso Robles has been transformed over the last few weeks.  The hillsides are electric green in the sunny interludes, and the cover crops are months ahead of last year.  The photo on the left, from Adelaida Cellars' Facebook page, gives a good sense of the new landscape.  We haven't seen any significant runoff or recharge of the ponds and lakes locally, unlike further north, where Frick Winery (in Dry Creek, Sonoma County) posted the dramatic changes to one of their local ponds on their Facebook page.  Hopefully, with the next series of storms, we'll see the same.

Another rain impact: bad tasting day?

  • I read with interest W. Blake Gray's post The Day Wine Tasted Bad on his blog The Gray Report.  He describes a day (pouring down rain) where he opened bottle after bottle, looking for one that tasted good.  We've had this happen to us in the cellar, where wines that we know we liked all started disappointing us in one way or another.  It seems to happen more often when the weather is changing, and we've learned to call it a day early rather than make irrevocable decisions on days like this.  There are believers who would attribute this to the Biodynamic calendar, but it's always seemed more plausible to us that it's somehow meteorologic.  In any case, Blake, you're not alone.  Read more »

A Year in the Life

  • Law Estate 2Congratulations to our neighbors Law Estate Wines, which celebrated the one-year anniversary of opening their tasting room this week.  If you haven't been to visit them yet, in their beautiful tasting room at the crest of Peachy Canyon Road, you should make a point to.  And when you do, please wish them Happy Anniversary.  (Meanwhile, it's worth following them on Facebook, where they routinely post some great photos.)

Food for Thought (Drink for Thought?): Drinking Better

  • Finally, a piece in LA Weekly's Squid Ink blog got some well-deserved play around the internet.  Drink Better Wine, Start a Revolution is a clarion call by author Besha Rodell to consumers to demand better from their wine retailers.  She concludes: "And so, Millennials of America, as well as anyone else who has found themselves drinking that bottle of Two Buck Chuck and realizing that you are basically only tolerating something that you know little about, not truly enjoying it, I implore you: Drink better wine. Make it imperative that Vons should have decent wine if they want your business. Or, better, hit up the small shops around town that really do all the work for you." Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Read the article »

Weekly Roundup for December 15th: 8000 Years of Wine Storage, Months of Great Press for Paso, and a Week of Rain

This last week, it seems we've been dominated by stories about our rain.  Whether it's in its pre-precipitation anticipation or its post-fall analysis, it's clear that California is excited about the unusual moisture falling from the sky and curious to know whether it makes a big-picture difference in our multi-year drought.  But that's not all we've been seeing.  Paso Robles got another mention in what has been an amazing year for our area, we got a nice mention ourselves from the Los Angeles Times, and we learned about how wine has been transported and stored through the millennia.  Plus, I discovered a blog I'll be following regularly going forward.

OK, About that Rain

  • We wrote about our rain twice, once looking forward to it and once mid-storms.
  • The Los Angeles Times pointed out that the storms aren't just having an impact on the vineyards directly; they're also building the Sierra snowpack, which provides so much of California's summer water source.
  • Looking back, our local KCBX Public Radio interviewed me for a piece on how the drought impacted the 2014 vintage (it wasn't all, or even mostly, negative). My conclusion was "the quality of this vintage, as is often true with low yielding vintages, looks spectacular -- but now it can rain". And it has! Listen »

In Between the Raindrops
LAventure Clouds

  • Winter isn't just about rain clouds and green grass; the interludes between the storms provide mixed skies appealing in a different way than the deep unbroken blues of summer. I loved this shot from the L'Aventure Winery Facebook page, of their iconic sign hanging under a cornflower blue sky dotted with sheep-like clouds.

Some Nice Press for Paso

  • This year has seen Paso Robles recognized in the Washington Post, in Forbes, in the San Francisco Chronicle, in Conde Nast Traveler, and in Passport Magazine. This week, Travel & Leaisure got into the act, putting Paso Robles at #16 in its list of America's Best Towns for the Holidays. Most visitors come to Paso between April and October, and bask in its warm days and clear golden light. The winter is different, softer and greener, slower-paced, and it's nice to see a piece focusing on our winter charms.
  • Paso Robles was also the feature of a great blog posted by Chef and Sommelier Shauna Burke.  Her piece, called Stopping in the Middle: A Weekend in Paso Robles Wine Country, touched on several of my favorite places to go and things to do. Like the rest of her blog, it also was beautifully written and illustrated. I was intrigued that her previous blog piece was about Vermont (where I grew up) and equally impressed with what she picked to feature in that piece. With that inducement, I ended up reading a year's worth of entries, chock full of terrific recipes, thoughtful recommendations and her terrific photography. Check it out »

And for Tablas Creek

  • It was really nice for me to see the 2012 Cotes de Tablas picked by S. Irene Virbila as the Los Angeles Times' Wine of the Week, for two reasons.  The first is that as the "middle child" (between, in price, the Esprit de Tablas line and our Patelin de Tablas) the Cotes wines, which I think have never been better, seem to struggle to get their fair share of attention.  And second, I thought her review was particularly perceptive and really nailed the wine's character: "cherries, plums and wild herbs, with a licorice kick".

Food for Thought (Drink for Thought?)

  • This last piece isn't new (it was published in March) but it was new to us, and we all found it fascinating.  It's a long-format article on the Web site Vinepair called The 8,000 Year Effort To Transport Wine Around The World, going back to when ancient Georgians invented the kvevri, a massive earthenware vessel used to ferment, age and store wine made from locally growing wild grapes.  Smaller, more portable amphorae came next, then wood barrels, and finally bottles in recent centuries.  And even once they were invented, wine wasn't initially put into bottles at the estate; it was transported in barrels and bottled nearer its eventual destination.  In any case, we found the article fascinating, and hope you will too.  Read more »

Assessing the Impacts of Last Week's Rain

We're in a peaceful interlude between two significant storms.  The sun may be thin and wintery, but it's (mostly) out.  The rain that fell on Thursday and Friday is soaking in.  Another storm is on its way, but won't arrive until mid-day Monday.  We got 2.67" of rain in the storm -- a bit less than had been forecast, and quite a bit less than areas around the San Francisco Bay, which got drenched.  Still, this brings our total for the winter to 7.5 inches, above average for this early in the rainy season.

I took advantage of this break to get out into the vineyard and take some photos, and was struck by just how much greener it was even than early in the week.  A few photos will give you a sense:

AfterTheRain_2

As you can see, the cover crop is off to a flying start:

AfterTheRain_1

In terms of greenery, we're ahead of where we were in March of this past winter.  The sequence -- an inch on Halloween, to get things germinated, followed by 3 weeks of sun to encourage growth, followed by a week of gentle rain totaling over 3 inches -- was perfect preparation for our first heavy rains of the year, and meant that we saw virtually no erosion, and almost total absorption of the nearly 3 inches of overnight rain this week.  Even on Friday, there were only a few spots in the vineyard with puddles visible:

AfterTheRain_3

You can see in the above photo the deep ripping that we've done on hillsides in preparation for this winter. These cuts run horizontally across the hills and encourage water to be absorbed rather than to flow off downhill.

As the skies cleared Friday, we got some spectacular cloud shapes and colors:

Sunset 1  Sunset 2

Pink and blue sky behind oaks

Looking forward, on Monday we're forecast to receive a storm, similar to last week's if a bit weaker, that should provide another couple of inches, with a bit more Tuesday as the associated low pressure system moves inland.  Then a brief break before a smaller system comes through on Friday, after which it looks like we'll have dry weather through Christmas.  This December rain we've received is the best present we could have asked for.


Weekly Roundup for December 6th: When We Got Wet, Learned How to Drink, and Chose Wine over Beer

Our biggest story over the last week has been rain.  We've received measurable amounts each day since last Sunday, totaling 3.6 inches at our weather station out here.  Even better, that rain has come spread out, with five different days producing between 0.48 inches and 1.19 inches.  The distributed nature of the rainfall has meant that it's all soaked in and we're seeing virtually no runoff.  And after a break this weekend, there's more rain on the horizon for late next week.  In this week's weekly roundup, we start with a look at our recent rain, and move back in time from there.

Our Rain, In Perspective
CA Precipitation vs Normal 4nov-4dec14

  • Despite the wet week, the Central Coast is only slightly above historical norms for this time of year, according to an interesting piece by SpaceRef, which used NASA data to plot California's rainfall from space.  The above graphic, showing average daily precipitation compared to normal for the Nov 4-Dec 4 period, is just one cool map in the article. Read more »

The Origins of Human Alcohol Consumption, Revealed

  • According to a new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, our ability (relatively unique to humans and other great apes) to digest ethanol came about 10 million years before we started to produce it ourselves.  The genetic mutation allowed us to derive more nutrition from the fallen fruit our ancestors were scavenging off forest floors at the time. Read more »

Celebrating Repeal Day: December 5th

  • 81 years ago on Friday, the ratification of the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition and re-legalized the sale of alcohol in the United States.  I quite enjoyed George Yatchisin's exploration of California's Wine History on KCET, which looks at how the vineyards that survived prohibition did so, and some of the repercussions we're still feeling today.

Beauty Shot of the Week: Castoro's Rainbow

Castoro rainbow

  • One consequence of this week's rain was widespread rainbows.  I tried but failed to take some good shots out at Tablas Creek, but this photo from Castoro Cellars' Facebook page is spectacular.  If you don't follow them already on social media, you should: their photography is consistently beautiful. I particularly love this time of year, with the hillsides turning greener by the day and the air soft and cool. If you haven't been out to Paso in the winter, it's wonderful, and wonderfully different from summer's stark, crisp precision.

Food for Thought (Beverage for Thought?): a Growing Trend Toward Wine and Away from Beer

  • Wine preferenceThe Washington Post published an interesting article comparing the changes since 1992 of Americans' preferences between beer, wine, and hard alcohol.  I think that the headline ("The Great Beer Abandonment") overstates the case a bit, but the trends for wine (right) are clearly healthy.  Not only are young people preferring wine more than the previous generation did, but each generation's wine preference continues to grow steadily as its members move through their 30's, 40's and 50's.
  • Those continued trends are why I've thought that some of the recent hand-wringing within the wine industry about the rise of craft beer is misplaced.  In fact, I'd think that for a craft winery (the term doesn't really exist, but should) seeing craft beer's increasing importance in the market would be encouraging, as younger consumers who are exposed to the creativity and individuality of craft beers would already have much of the vocabulary to understand wine.  This idea probably deserves a full blog post.  Stay tuned.
  • Finally in this vein, I found the snapshot of the current American wine consumer, published this week by Wine Business Monthly, worthwhile reading.  It showed the growth of (but still relatively small penetration of) social media in wine purchase decision-making, the continued popularity of grapes we don't think much about like White Zin and Pinot Grigio, and the relative unimportance to consumers of wineries' environmental practices.  A good reminder of the work there still is to do! Read more »

Weekly Roundup for November 23rd, 2014: Natural Wine, Ancient Rocks, Knobbly Fruit & Thanksgiving

This week's Weekly Roundup is highlighted by a great thought piece on what makes wine "modern" or "traditional", and whether either of these have a relationship with the idea of "natural wine".  We've included a couple of our favorites of the many Thanksgiving wine recommendations omnipresent at this time of year.  And, of course, we check in with some members of our community who are doing cool stuff.  As always, please share in the comments what you like, and what you'd like to see different.

The bounty of (our) harvest

Artisan photo of quinces

  • We kick off this week's column with a gorgeous photo from Artisan Restaurant.  We've partnered with them on several dinners over the years, including one early this year which featured lamb from our property.  Their photo on Instagram (above) of some knobbly bright yellow quinces from one of our trees caught our eye.  We dropped some off there because we had many more than we had any idea how to use, and wanted to get them into capable hands.  This photo isn't an isolated event; there's beautiful stuff worth following on all of Artisan's social media feeds.  If you're wondering why we grow quinces (along with apples, pears, cherries, plums, peaches and apricots) they're a part of the increased biodiversity we've been working to integrate over recent years.

Something in the (ancient) water

  • Halter fossilOur neighbor Halter Ranch posted a great photo (right, or on the Halter Ranch Facebook page for a high-resolution version) of one of the fish fossils that they found in their rocks and integrated into their winery building.  It's a great reminder that the soils that sit under our vineyards (and much of west Paso Robles) were deposited as seabed in the Miocene period (10-20 million years ago). These were lifted above the surface in the creation of the Santa Lucia Mountains quite recently, by geologic standards.  My dad wrote a great blog piece about our soils' history in 2011, if you're interested in learning more.

The 2014 Harvest

Is there a holiday coming up?

  • Thanksgiving is the American holiday most dedicated to eating and drinking.  Yet, many traditional Thanksgiving foods aren't naturally friendly to many of the most popular American wines, given their questionable affinity to oak and high alcohol.  Happily, Rhones, both red and white, make classic pairings, and it's always a pleasure waiting for the pre-Thanksgiving wine columns suggesting Rhones as an accompaniment.  I thought Laurie Daniel's Rhones for Thanksgiving column for the San Jose Mercury News was particularly good this year, and was pleased to see that our 2012 Cotes de Tablas ("bright fruit with savory notes of wild herbs") was one of her suggestions.
  • We weren't mentioned, but I still really liked Eric Asimov's Thanksgiving recommendation that the wine you choose should "Refresh the Palate". He highlights versatility and energy as two characteristics to look for in your Thanksgiving wine, and recommends an eclectic mix. I'm not sure I could find many of the wines he and his panel recommend (there are rewards for living in New York City, after all) but I do know that I agree completely with his basic advice. Read more »

An event to look forward to

  • This week, the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers announced the details of their 2015 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience. In the last seven years, this event has become a showpiece for the Rhone movement here, and it's a remarkable value: just $85 for the full slate of events, including a nine-wine seminar (this year led by the Wine Enthusiast's Matt Kettmann), a vintners lunch catered by Chef Maegen Loring, a grand tasting featuring some 50 Paso Robles Rhone wineries, and a silent auction that benefits the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund.  There's a $35 ticket for just the Grand Tasting, too. Details & tickets »

Food for Thought (Beverage for Thought?)

  • Finally for this week I wanted to point you to a blog that is writing some of the most consistently interesting and erudite pieces in the world of wine today.  Elaine Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews this week tackles the questions raised by the ambiguity inherent in the definition of "natural wine".  We fall in her category 3 ("Wine growers and/or makers that use organic and/or biodynamic viticultural practices and/or less interventionist cellar techniques with few additives but do not define themselves with the movement of Natural wine") and are often dismayed by the reductive arguments on either extreme of the debate. Her conclusion -- that what matters is "if we’re trying to listen, and have a conversation" seems right on to me. Read more »

Weekly Roundup for November 16th, 2014: AVAs, Local Achievements, Veterans Day, Direct Shipping and Uncovering the Obscure

Last week, we debuted the Weekly Roundup, news from around the wine community that we thought worth sharing with you.  It's an admittedly eclectic mix, but we feel each thing that we've chosen warrants few minutes of your time.  It's also a work in progress, so please share in the comments what you like, and what you'd like to see different.  This week's list:

Some Great Press for Paso Robles and our new AVAs

  • The Tasting Panel's Anthony Dias Blue visited Paso recently, just before Sunset's Savor the Central Coast in September. His article concludes with an exciting evaluation of our great town: "this sleepy region, once home to a few obscure, under-the-radar wineries, has transformed itself into the most exciting wine region in California".  The article also recommends wines from 15 top Paso Robles wineries, including our 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc and 2012 Mourvedre. Read more »
  • On of our favorite blogs for the week came from Wine Spectator editor Mitch Frank, whose piece Wine Can Be So Complicated — And That's OK was a notably thoughtful musing set against the background of the recent approval of 11 new AVAs here in Paso Robles.  His conclusion -- that "while wineries, and journalists, need to work hard to make wine inviting for newcomers, that doesn't mean erasing what makes wine like few other beverages—it comes from someplace specific" sums up our thoughts pretty well.  I'm quoted in the article, and submitted a comment with a few more of my thoughts on the subject. Read more »

Something from Tablas Creek

  • RZH in the Navy It was fun on Veterans Day to see the tributes to the many veterans in the wine community flowing through our social media feeds (for the intersection of the #wine and #veteransday hashtags on Twitter, check out this link).  We posted this 1944 Navy photo of Robert Haas, all of 17 years old at the time.  A sincere thank you to him and to all the many veterans and servicemembers, current and past, who have impacted our lives so substantially.

A Glimpse Behind the Scenes into the Business of Wine

  • Wine marketer, expert blogger and consumer advocate Tom Wark was interviewed by ReasonTV, and the 3-minute video that resulted is posted on YouTube.  I spend a fair amount of time trying to shine some light on some of the more convoluted and counterintuitive laws that govern how wine is sold around the United States in my Legislation and Regulation series.  Tom's opening salvo: that "the only way to get them to begin to be repealed and reformed is to bring them to light" is absolutely spot on. Watch the interview »

Some Landmarks from our Neighbors

Paso Robles Beautiful

Cass - fall foliage

  • We've been posting lots of photos of our fall foliage.  The photo above, which our friends at Cass Winery posted on their Facebook page, is one of the most impressive we've seen.  Too good not to share!

Food for Thought (Beverage for Thought?)

  • We'll conclude this week with an article by Lettie Teague in the Wall Street Journal, entitled Dark Horse Wines: Great Finds in Odd Places.  As a winery who chose what was, at the time, an odd place (Paso Robles) to make odd wines (southern Rhone-style blends), we find comfort in her conclusion that because gatekeepers will naturally tend toward the conservative, "wine drinkers themselves must ultimately be the ones to pursue the unexpected, to eschew the tried-and-true".  She also suggests 5 wines, including one (a Pinot Noir from South Africa) imported by Vineyard Brands.  Read more »

Changing of the seasons

It's rare that in a single day you feel the changing of the seasons as dramatically as we did yesterday.  Last weekend was warm and sunny; it hit the mid-80's out here both Saturday and Sunday.  Even after the rain from a week ago, the overall feel was still of high autumn, even if the hillsides, if you looked closely, were softened and enriched by a new fuzz of green. 

Enter yesterday morning.  When I arrived at work, it was clear and sunny, if breezy and cool.  But by mid-morning, we had a fog bank cresting the Santa Lucia Mountains to our west:

Changing seasons fog bank

A few minutes later, the fog started rolling across the sky in wisps and eddies, producing a flickering landscape alternating between bright and gloom.  A few photos, first looking down south over the vineyard:

Changing seasons long view

and looking between two rows of Syrah:

Changing seasons syrah

By late morning we'd settled into a (really quite beautiful) semi-overcast condition, with bright skies but only occasional blue.  It brought out the fall colors in the vineyard quite remarkably.  Two views, both of which I recommend you click on to enlarge:

Changing seasons foliage 1

Tablas Creek Vineyard in Autumn

Finally, a picture that I posted on Facebook yesterday, but which I like so much I'm going to use it to finish this blog, showing the green shoots of cover crop, which thanks to the rain now snake between each row, ready to hold the soil in place when our serious precipitation arrives. Already the soil is darker and feels richer than it did just two weeks ago:

Fall colors and new cover crop 2014

Today, the sun has yet to peek through.  There is humidity in the air.  We're forecast to get some sprinkles this week, with two wetter storms to follow in the next 10 days or so.  We're so ready.


Photo Essay: After the Rain

Last weekend, we received a glorious and much-needed 1.17 inches of rain.  Much of this came Friday night (Halloween) which wasn't great for the kids out trick-or-treating, but for those of us desperate for a wet winter, the rainfall was a treat indeed.  In between Saturday's showers, Lauren Cross got some great photos that captured the feel of that day beautifully: skies still mostly cloudy, soil colors deepened to warm blacks, sparkles of light from the drops of water still clinging to the vines and wires.  I wanted to share some of my favorites.  First, a look up one of our hills, with a great view of the changing skies:

Looking over Counoise

Next, a close-up of a second-crop cluster, wet with raindrops from one of Saturday's many showers:

Close up

I love the brighter feel (as well as the colors the light brings out) of this shot of our chicken coop, caught when the clouds parted and the sun snuck through:

Coop

And finally, the shot we take so often, looking over Roussanne and Tannat blocks to the colors of Grenache Blanc and Syrah behind:

Over Roussanne

Our early rain has, if nothing else, put us all in a good mood as we get to watch the hillsides start to turn green.  With all the fruit safely in the cellar, the cover crop seeded and compost spread in the vineyard, it can get serious any time it likes.


Autumn Vineyard Photo Essay

The grapes are all off the vines.  The days are shorter, with a lower sun angle.  We just avoided our first frost of the year here last night, and tonight is supposed to be just as chilly.  The weather pattern is transitioning, and each storm front makes it a little further south.  On Saturday, we actually got a few sprinkles.  Next weekend we're forecast to see measurable precipitation.  It's all hopeful for a vineyard (and a region) struggling under three years of drought.

In the near term, the vines are responding to the changing season by losing chlorophyll and letting the colors hidden by the green all year come out.  It doesn't last long, but it's spectacular while it does.  Here are a few shots I got this morning, starting with a photo from the center of our head-trained Tannat block, looking up at Grenache Blanc (on the left) and Syrah (on the right):

S & GB behind T

A closeup of some of the Tannat leaves:

Tannat leaves

And one of the Tannat second crop clusters, that never ripened enough to be harvested, and are now food for our local birds:

Second Tannat crop

In the vineyard, we're applying compost, so that as the rains come this winter, it will be absorbed into the soil and provide for next year's nutrition.  That compost sits beside one of the casualties of the late-summer fruit thinning we do to ensure that what we harvest has good concentration:

Compost & Cover Crop

I was struck by the complimentary colors of the vineyard and those of the new chicken coop we've installed in a section of head-trained Roussanne.  I love the "max occupancy" note painted above the door:

Henhouse

And finally, one more photo of the vineyard itself, this time looking up through Syrah, which I think catches the feel of this newly rebalanced season, neither summer nor winter yet, lacking the vibrant green of active growth but before the incipent frosts take away the leaves entirely, and feeling somehow both cool and warm at the same time:

Through Syrah

If you have the chance to make it out to Paso Robles in this season, you're in for a treat.  It never lasts long, but it's a wonderful backdrop while it's here.


Harvest 2014 Recap: Yields up 5.2% (though still below average); Quality excellent

On Wednesday, October 15th we picked the last batch of Roussanne off of our estate.  And just like that, we're done picking for the year.  It doesn't feel like we're finished, as we're still pressing off bins of reds, the cellar still smells like crush, and the vineyard's colors are still more green than gold -- it is only mid-October, after all -- but there's no more fruit to pick.  From Wednesday:

Last Day of Harvest

As we've progressed through this harvest, we have been comparing it to similar vintages with relatively low yields and high quality, like 2003, 2007 and 2013.  Now that everything is in, we have a chance to look quantitatively and see whether these comparisons have merit.  Of course, there are things that can't be easily measured (think color, or thickness of skins) but knowing how much fruit you have and how ripe it is, overall, gives us a good tool for knowing what the vintage will be like.  And it's not surprising; yields per acre and ripeness at harvest tell you critical things like skin-to-juice and sugar-to-acid ratios.

Somewhat to our surprise, given that we're in our third year of drought, yields were on average actually up a little from 2013. For our principal grapes:

Grape2013 Yields (tons)2014 Yields (tons)% Change
Viognier 16.7 11.4 -31.7%
Marsanne 8.2 9.9 +20.7%
Grenache Blanc 25.4 31.9 +25.6%
Picpoul Blanc 5.2 7.5 +44.2%
Vermentino 15.1 17.3 +14.6%
Roussanne 44.5 42.8 -3.8%
Total Whites 115.1 120.8
+5.0%
Grenache 48.7 50.7 +4.1%
Syrah 32.5 38.1 +17.2%
Mourvedre 57.3 52.3 -8.7%
Tannat 12.3 15.4 +25.2%
Counoise 13.9 17.0 +22.3%
Total Reds 164.7 173.5
5.4%
Total 279.8 294.3 +5.2%

Most varieties are up a bit, with the exceptions of Mourvedre and Roussanne, our two latest-ripening varieties, and the two grapes most susceptible to late-season stress-related devigoration.  So, it's perhaps unsurprising that both showed declines in this dry year.  The third grape to see a decline (Viognier) came from a much more discrete cause: we had several nights of break-ins by wild pigs toward the beginning of harvest, and they of course went straight for Viognier, the ripest (read: earliest-ripening) grape.

Overall yields ended up at 2.78 tons per acre, which is still just below our ten-year average of 2.9 tons per acre.  Other years in which we've seen yields between 2.5 and 3 tons per acre have included 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2013, 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:

YearAvg. SugarsAvg. pH
2007 24.42 3.67
2008 23.87 3.64
2009 23.42 3.69
2010 22.68 3.51
2011 22.39 3.50
2012 22.83 3.65
2013 22.90 3.63
2014 23.18 3.59

Both of these measures show the subtle differences between 2014 and a year like 2013, corroborating what we noticed: that the level of lushness this year (our highest average sugars since 2009) was counterbalanced by good acids (better than all our recent vintages except the historically cool 2010 and 2011 vintages).  It also suggests that the narrative we're hearing from many California appellations -- that acids were extremely low this year, requiring significant intervention in the cellar -- didn't hold true for us.  Finally, it's a good indication that we were able to keep up with the pressure in mid-September, when so much of the vineyard seemed like it was ready, and that we got fruit off the vine while it still maintained natural freshness.

In character, we see many similarities to 2013, with the characteristic dark color and intense flavors of a low-yielding vintage, but with a little more overt fruit than the more savory 2013s.  Fans of the lusher style our wines featured in the 2007-2009 period will likely find many similarities.  Clusters and berries were very small, which means that skin-to-juice ratios were high on our red grapes.  My dad holds up a cluster each of (from left) Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre from late-September, when all three were arriving in the cellar simultaneously:

004

Of course, it's early to make predictions on flavors, so stay tuned in the spring, when we'll dive into the vintage's character in preparation for our blending trials.

At 53 days between its August 23rd beginning and its October 15th conclusion, this harvest clocks as a bit shorter than average (our 10-year average is 56 days) and our finish was one of our earliest on record, preceded this century only by last year's October 7th end.  It joins 2013 as our only vintages where we finished harvesting before the Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend.

Our main challenge, as things finished up, was Roussanne, and it's with this notoriously finicky grape that I think the meticulous work of our vineyard team will show the most.  Roussanne, even in the best of conditions, tends to ripen unevenly, requiring that we go through each block multiple times to pick what's ripe and give the other clusters some more time to mature.  Roussanne is also the variety most prone to stress-related devigoration, where the leaves lose chlorophyll and ripening slows toward the end of harvest.  Not every vine is affected to the same degree, so you can have mostly-green vines next to those that are largely yellow, with predictably faster ripening on the greener vines.  In this exceptionally stressful year, we knew we would have to be willing to go back repeatedly through our Roussanne blocks if we hoped to get most of the fruit harvested in good condition.  But even by Roussanne's normal standards, this year was a slog.  As an example, we made a first pass through the Roussanne block we still call our "New Hill" (since it was planted in 2000 rather than 1995-1997) on September 4th.  We made our next passes on September 18th and October 2nd.  Still, nearly half the fruit remained.  We went through again on October 7th, and a final pick -- our last pick of the harvest -- on October 16th. It's a good thing Roussanne is so rewarding in the cellar.  If it weren't, no one would deal with its quirks. The culprit, looking deceptively placid in early October:

Roussanne mid-September 2

 

And while we're early to be done with harvest, the cooler nights and the shorter days are beginning to bring out the fall colors in the vineyard.  I take a photo from this vantage point nearly every year because it shows two grapes that both color up in the fall: Tannat, in the foreground, and Syrah, on the hillside behind.

Fall foliage 2

Now that we're done with picking, we're able to get our animal herd back into the vineyard.  They can clean up any second crop clusters we left behind, as well as start getting some natural fertilizer into the soil in advance of what we're hoping will be a wet winter.  Dottie, one of our guard donkeys, is enjoying a snack of Marsanne before it goes dormant: 

Dottie back in the vineyard

And as for that rain, we're feeling hopeful that the series of Pacific fronts that have blown through Paso Robles over the last two weeks -- dry though they were, this early in the season -- bode well for winter. In many years, it's still hot and summer-like in mid-October.  These last two weeks have felt like fall.  If that promise carries through to real rain, we'll all have reason to celebrate.