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A first look at the 2008 reds

Harvest 2009 Begins... Slowly

It's clear at this point that it's going to be a long harvest.  We picked our first grapes early last week (September 1st): Viognier from the top of the tallest hill on the property -- typically the first part of the vineyard we harvest -- and Roussanne for our Bergeron program.

And then we waited.

We harvested a little more today, nine days later, with a another small Viognier block.  So, we're approximately 2% done with harvest.  It doesn't look like things are progressing very quickly, either.  Grapes that are normally accumulating sugar rapidly (like Grenache, and Grenache Blanc) are sitting quietly around 21 or 22 Brix, and haven't moved much in the past week.  But, acids on the Grenache Blanc, at least, are relatively low, and it may be that this vintage will feature ripeness at lower sugar levels than the past.  We're planning to bring in our first Grenache Blanc early next week.

The grape that seems closest to coming in in significant quantities is Syrah.  Its numbers are looking good (roughly 24 Brix, 3.45 pH) but the grapes just don't feel quite ready.  The flavor development doesn't seem complete, and the grapes are a little too full still.  Another few days and we figure that they'll just get better.

One thing that we have noticed is that there is enormous variability within vineyard blocks.  I was out in the Grenache section today and saw clusters that were starting to deflate, looking totally ready to pick, on the same vine as clusters that still hadn't completed veraison.  On one level this isn't surprising.  Grenache -- like Roussanne -- always has major issues with uneven ripening.  But we're seeing the same phenomenon throughout the vineyard.  This isn't as big an issue for us as it is for many other producers; we always hand-harvest selectively, making multiple passes through each vineyard block, which protects us against uneven ripening.  But it does suggest that just because we have started a particular varietal, or a particular vineyard block, it doesn't mean that we'll be completing that varietal or that vineyard block anytime soon.  My guess is that we'll still be harvesting in mid-November, which is a little scary given predictions of an El Nino winter and a likely earlier onset of the rainy season than normal.

It's clear why we see this wide variation in ripeness.  We had a cool spring with a series of late frosts that, as with all frosts, had an unpredictable impact.  Some vines were affected while vines nearby were fine.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of vines had some sprouts frosted while others a few inches away were not.  This unevenness persisted through a cool early summer, brief hot spell in mid-July, a cool late July and early August, and then a very hot three week period ending last weekend.  We've been hearing anecdotal evidence of some vineyards locally showing impacts from vine dehydration during the heat wave, but between the good rainfall we saw last winter and some proactive irrigation in sensitive vineyard blocks early this summer, the vineyard looks healthier than it ever has before at this time of year.

Crop levels look a bit higher than the past few years, although it will vary depending on how much the varietal and the vineyard block were impacted by the frosts.  Overall, I suspect we'll see higher yields on reds (most of which were not out during the frosts, or in the case of Grenache, were so vigorous that they resprouted and still hung a healthy crop) and similar yields on whites to 2008.

A few photos of the first day of harvest are below.  First, Winemaker Ryan Hebert with the bins of Viognier:


The bins are dumped into our press:


And finally, the juice dripping out of the press: