Winemaker Ryan Hebert discusses the end of the 2010 Harvest
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Harvest 2010 Recap and Assessment: Low Sugars, Good Yields and Great Flavors

Harvest 2010 is in the barn.  Done.  Finally.  It was a late harvest all-around, about 3 weeks late at the beginning and 2 weeks at the end.  We began harvest with a little Vermentino on September 16th, but didn't really get into significant picking until October.  The 47 tons we harvested in September, 253 tons in October, and 67 tons in November were by percentage the least in September and the most in November in the last decade.  Below, Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi presents the last cluster of harvest.  As usual, Mourvedre brings us home.


Yields in 2010 were excellent.  Over the entire 105 producing acres, we harvested 368 tons, which is almost exactly the 3.5 tons per acre that we feel allows our vineyard to produce its best expression of place.  Too much less than that can make wines so powerfully structured that they mask some of the expression of the soil, and too much more starts to compromise concentration.  Excellent.  Overall, the harvest is our largest ever, but in yield per acre trails slightly the harvests of 2005 and 2006 (which both ended up around 315 tons off of 90 producing acres).  The quantities that we have in the cellar are particularly welcome after the three low-yielding years of 2007, 2008 and (particularly) 2009, when we harvested just under 200 tons, or 1.8 tons per acre.

Every varietal saw increased yields except Roussanne.  Some of the Roussanne that was out in the vineyard never got ripe enough to pick in this cool year, and because it sprouts late and is resistant to frost, it was less impacted by the conditions in 2009 than many other varieties.  Still, we're going to be focusing even more attention on the health of our Roussanne blocks over the next year.  By varietal, our yields were:

Grape 2010 Yields (tons) 2009 Yields (tons) % Change
Viognier 22.5 12.2 +84.4%
Marsanne 13.2
Grenache Blanc 34.8
Picpoul Blanc 9.4
Vermentino 19.1
Total Whites 132.9
Grenache 71.1
Syrah 47.7
Mourvedre 69.3
Tannat 14.5
Counoise 16.8
Total Reds 219.4
Total 352.3

With the cool summer and the long hang time, we were able to harvest the grapes at optimal ripeness at slightly lower sugar levels than last year. This is in fact the third consecutive year that our average sugar levels at harvest have declined:

2007: 24.42 avg. Brix
2008: 23.87 avg. Brix
2009: 23.42 avg. Brix
2010: 22.68 avg. Brix

Delving deeper into the sugar levels, the average sugars at harvest of our principal varieties this year were:

Counoise: 21.9
Grenache Rouge: 24.6
Grenache Blanc: 21.3
Marsanne: 19.7
Mourvèdre: 22.7
Picpoul Blanc: 20.4
Roussanne: 21.5
Syrah: 23.9
Tannat: 24.4
Vermentino: 20.5
Viognier: 22.3

Summing across color, our average sugar level of our whites was 21.2 Brix and our reds was 23.6 Brix.  These levels suggest that we'll make some whites in the 12.5% alcohol range this year, with none likely to approach 14%.  Our reds should sit between 14% and 14.5%, and it's even possible a wine or two might be around 13.5% alcohol.  If sugar levels have to be somewhat higher to get the flavors and concentrations that we like, we're fine with that as long as the grapes are in balance.  But if we can get the flavors that we like with such moderate alcohol levels, then halleleujah.

The more I hear about what happened elsewhere in California this year, the more convinced I become that Paso Robles has a chance to make the state's best wines.  I said as much in a recent interview with Mary Ann Worobiec of the Wine Spectator.  We had a cool summer, but it was only rarely foggy, and the clement weather we had in early November meant that our latest-ripening grapes still had conditions in which they could ripen.  We had a little rain during harvest, but much less than the North Coast and it was always followed by sun and wind.  We had some heat stress in late September, but less severe than in Napa or Sonoma, and we hadn't overreacted to the cool summer by pulling lots of canopy and exposing the clusters to sunburn.

And the quality of the vintage does look very strong. Winemaker Ryan Hebert commented that he doesn't "think there's a dog in the cellar".  We're seeing very deep colors off the reds and tremendous aromatics off of everything.  Mid-November is usually a lousy time to ask winemakers what they think of their recently-completed harvest; the reds assume richness with time, and nearly every lot is somewhere in the middle of fermentation and at something of an awkward stage.  Plus, winemakers nearly always focus on the lots that they're worried about, and so to find a winemaker who's feeling positive about what's in the cellar is a very good sign.  We're all looking forward to getting to know 2010 a little better over the coming weeks and months.