This has been an unusual summer. We had the warmest late-winter/early-spring anyone can remember. This was followed by the coolest May in 20 years. Then June was hot. July, so far, has been cool, and we've even had (very unusual for summer in Paso Robles) a couple of showery days.
Overall, the year looks about average in terms of heat accumulation. At 1276 degree days to date, we're about 10% behind where we've been the last three warm years (2012-2014 average on July 14th: 1483) but 15% ahead of the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages (average on July 14th: 1112). Through it all, the vineyard continues to look remarkably healthy.
To get a sense of how healthy, I'll start with this panoramic photo, taken this week, overlooking olur main Grenache block. It's worth expanding it; click on it (or any photo) to see it bigger:
All this variation in the weather, particularly the warm April and the cold May, suggests that we'll see a harvest that will begin early and end late. The grapes that had sprouted by early April (like Viognier, Grenache and Grenache Blanc) were spurred on by the warmth and sun, and pushed canes already a foot long or more by the time it cooled off in May. The later-sprouting grapes (like Counoise, Mourvedre and Roussanne) were barely out when it got cold, and didn't really start growing until things warmed up again in June. This led to a period in mid-June where the early varieties had grapes that were already pea-sized while many of the late varieties were still flowering.
Things have evened out in the last few weeks, but you can still see remnants of the uneven beginning in the different cluster and berry sizes. First, Syrah, from near the top of the hill. The berries look nearly full-sized, but we haven't seen any veraison yet:
Grenache, too, has grown a lot, though we do expect some added mass before they start to turn red:
Mourvedre is still farther away from being ready, with the grapes still as much oval as round, and small, hard and light green:
This same week last year, I was already talking about veraison in Syrah and Mourvedre. 2014's veraison was about 2 weeks earlier than normal, and this carried through to a mid-August beginning to harvest. The fact that we're still not seeing veraison suggests that we're likely looking at a later start to harvest than the last few years, and I'm also expecting a significantly later finish. Could we start in late August and finish in early November? It seems likely, at this point, though a stretch of hot (or cold) weather could move that around.
Crop levels seem down a bit compared to the past couple of years. Given that we're now four years into our drought, that's hardly surprising. But it doesn't look like it will be dramatically reduced, and the vineyard looks healthier than it has in mid-July in years. Roussanne often is showing signs of stress by now, with leaves starting to yellow. Not this year. I'll leave you with one final shot of our Roussanne, sheltering under a vibrantly green canopy and beginning its long, slow trek toward what will likely be a mid-October harvest: