Why Paso Robles will make California's best wines in 2011
A Day in the Life of a Limousin Oak Fermenter

Harvest, Weeks of October 10th and 17th: Full Speed Ahead as Frosty Weather Looms

We've made an amazing amount of progress over the last couple of weeks.  The conditions have been perfect, with an average high temperature of 83 (range 72-91) and an average low temperature of 50 (range 44-55).  We've had ample sun every day.  These conditions have meant that everything is ripening steadily but not under much stress, and we can choose the ideal moment to harvest each block.

Over the two weeks, we've brought in a little over 107 tons of fruit off the Tablas Creek estate, and another 19 tons of purchased fruit for the Patelin wines.  The estate fruit includes our first pickings of Counoise (October 12th), Tannat (October 13th), and Mourvedre (October 22nd) and lots more Grenache, Syrah, and Roussanne.  We also completed our Viognier (October 13th), Marsanne (October 17th), and Grenache Blanc (October 20th) harvests which along with Vermentino makes four varieties we've finished and our first chance to look at yields compared to previous years.

By varietal, our yields have been:

Grape2011 Yields (tons)
2010 Yields (tons) 2009 Yields (tons)
Viognier 3.3 22.5 12.2
Marsanne 9.0 13.2
Grenache Blanc 21.0 34.8
Vermentino 11.9 19.1
Total Whites 45.2 89.6

We have known all summer that our Viognier was essentially wiped out by the frosts in the spring.  And the other varieties we've completed are all relatively early varieties that were impacted by the frosts.  So the fact that we're above 2009's historically low yields is a good thing.  But it's clear that we're well below what we harvested in 2010 in every grape variety except perhaps Roussanne, and that our yields overall will be closer to the roughly 200 tons that we harvested in 2009 than to the 350 tons we harvested in 2010.  As of the end of last week, we'd harvested 154 tons off the estate. We figure that at that point we were somewhere around 70% done, which puts us around 225 tons of estate fruit for the year.

The quality, though, looks amazing.  We've never seen such thick skins, and such deep colors, in the reds, and the sugar/acid/pH numbers look like they came from enology textbooks.  A few photos will give you a sense of things.  First, two photos of Grenache, one on the vine and one in a bin.  Given that Grenache is usually one of the ligher-colored red grapes, the colors we're seeing are particularly impressive.  On the left, a cluster still on the vine.  On the right, in a bin outside the winery:

Grenache_cluster  Grenache_in_bin

The grapes aren't the only thing that are showing exceptional color.  The sky has been an amazing dark blue with exceptionally low humidities.  The colors in the photo below (golden barrels, green wild roses trailing over the cream limestone rocks, and the amazing sky) are about as intense as it gets around here:


The Mourvedre is looking (and tasting) wonderful.  We've seen remarkably even ripening in this notoriously uneven grape.  Below, it shades on a sunny day last week under its canopy of leaves:


In the cellar, we've been running both red and white presses nearly every day, as the last whites come into the cellar at the same time that the earlier reds are ready to be pressed off their skins.  We'll be delving more into the cycle of grapes through the cellar in our next post, but visitors this past weekend for the Paso Robles Harvest Festival and the previous weekend for our Harvest & Winemaking Seminar (below) saw a beehive of activity: red grapes coming in, being sorted, destemmed and pumped into tanks, while other reds are being pressed off and moved to barrel and whites are being pressed whole cluster the same hour they arrive in the cellar.


For all the benign weather, we know that fall is ending.  The forecast for tonight calls for a good chance of frost, and tomorrow night is supposed to be nearly as cold.  There's not much out that could be hurt by a frost (everything is nearly ready to pick and frost only impacts a vine's leaves' ability to photosynthesize, not the grapes themselves) but it's a good reminder that we're nearing the end of the ripening season.  And the vineyard is starting to look autumnal; both Mourvedre and Syrah (the two most colorful grapes) are starting to show red and orange in their leaves. I'll leave you with one particularly fall-like Mourvedre leaf, below.  We'll be enjoying the colors as we get the last grapes in over the next week or so.