I returned this week from two and a half weeks on the east coast to find a vineyard landscape transformed. In what was a sea of green we now have new colors: pinks, reds and purples in our red grapes, as well as the first hints of gold in our white grapes.
These transformations are normal for early August, and while I stand by my prediction that harvest will be a couple of weeks early, the changing colors don't mean that harvest is imminent. In fact, I was a little surprised to see that even in the earliest-ripening grapes we weren't through veraison. To give you all a sense of what things look like now, I snapped representative photos of each of the main Rhone grapes, red and white. I'll go through them in the order in which we expect them to come in, starting with Viognier, the only grape I tasted that seemed pretty close. Note the golden color; I'm figuring maybe two more weeks before we start picking:
Next, Marsanne, which was still quite green by comparison to the Viognier:
Our first red will almost certainly be Syrah, but even there I still found a few green berries and the grapes didn't taste nearly ripe. We will likely see some Syrah from warmer parts of Paso for our Patelin wines as early as late next week, but I don't expect much off our own property before the end of August:
Grenache Blanc made for very good eating -- about the sugar/acid balance of table grapes, for now -- but that's far less than the concentration that we look for at harvest. You can see in the photo below that it's also still tautly inflated. We'll look for the grapes to soften quite a bit more before we pick, likely starting early September.
There's often a gap between the early grapes above and the late grapes below, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a pause in early-mid September when much of the Viognier, Marsanne, Syrah and Grenache Blanc have come off, but we're still waiting on our later grapes. Grenache, typically next in line, is still less than halfway through veraison, and while it does ripen pretty quickly once it finished veraison, I'd still expect it to be late-September before much Grenache is coming in:
Counoise is always our last grape to go through veraison, later, even, than Mourvedre, although Mourvedre's unusually long time between veraison and ripeness means that we typically harvest Counoise first. Many Counoise vines were still entirely filled with green clusters, and the photo I got is on the advanced side for the Counoise blocks as a whole. The grapes were also still quite hard and sour, even those that had turned purple:
It's not usually possible to take a good photo of white grapes in mid-veraison, but I managed it in our Roussanne. Note the differences in color between the grapes that are still green and those that have begun to take on the russet color that gives Roussanne its name. All the Roussanne grapes were still crunchy, though those with the russet tint were starting to get sweet, while the green ones were still sour. We're likely more than a month out from even our first Roussanne pick, and I expect a significant portion of our Roussanne harvest not to happen until October:
Finally, Mourvedre, which is as usual taking its time getting through veraison. It often starts before Grenache (and always before Counoise) but it's typically the last to finish veraison. We've come to expect to wait another 6 weeks between full veraison and harvest, when most grapes take 4 weeks. We might start to pick in the very end of September, but October will see the bulk of it:
Overall, and even after the two weeks of warm weather that just concluded (eleven consecutive days between 7/23 and 8/2 that reached the 90's, with the last three topping 100) the vineyard still looks to be in remarkably good shape. The Viognier was showing signs of some end-of-season stress, but it only has another couple of weeks to go. I saw a little sunburn damage here and there, mostly in Syrah, but less than we see most vintages. And the weather forecast for the next week is perfect: highs in the upper 80's or low 90's, and cool nights in the upper 50's. That's about as good as it gets for Paso Robles in August. If all continues as we're seeing it, I think we're in for another terrific vintage.