When a little harvest rain is no big deal
October 12, 2012
This week saw the first truly fall-like weather of the year. And what a relief. We'd been picking at what felt like full speed for nearly three weeks, under terrific conditions but without a break. In the first 10 days of October, we brought in an incredible 98 tons of fruit, and with most of our Mourvedre and Counoise and some Grenache still out on the vines have already matched last year's frost-diminished total in two-thirds the days.
More on the overall progress with the 2012 harvest is coming in a blog post early next week. First, a recap of this week's rain, which was only about a quarter of an inch out at the vineyard, but a full inch in some areas east of town. It was amazing how fast the storm blew in (and out). It was sunny in the morning, then around 11am this was the view out our front door:
The rain lasted about 20 minutes, hard, and then it blew through.
Rain during harvest can be a problem. If you've had a damp summer and already have mildew or rot starting to manifest themselves in the vineyard, even a small harvest cloudburst can cause an explosion of fungal problems. Or if the rain is followed by days of humidity (especially warm, humid weather) the ever-present spores that cause rot can bloom out of control. But one advantage that we have in California (and Paso Robles in particular) is that wet weather rarely sticks around. An hour later, the same view looked like this:
The positive impacts of a little harvest rain are rarely talked about, but no less real. If you've had a warm fall and are seeing relatively high sugar levels but also higher acidity than you'd like at harvest, a bit of moisture can rehydrate the grapes and bring both sugar and acid levels into better balance. And the vines, typically highly stressed by this point, can react to a bit of water by putting a last burst of energy into ripening their crop. Nearly every year we see the same thing with the last few vineyard blocks that are lagging at the end of harvest. We get a small dose of rain and, if we follow that with a few warm, sunny days, see more ripening in those few days than we may have seen in the two previous weeks of dry weather.
And from a human perspective, having two cool, rainy days where we didn't pick, and a couple of days to follow where the grapes will be reconcentrating, gives our cellar team time to say hello to their families, get a little much-deserved sleep, and assess the progress in the field and in the cellar. That's plenty valuable in its own right.