A Cool Stretch Lets Us Ease into Harvest 2016; Yields Seem Solid
September 08, 2016
The cellar is full of bins of fruit. Our white press is running all day pressing newly harvested Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, and Vermentino, and our red press has been working on the first loads of Syrah. Everything smells yeasty and spicy, with the tang of CO2 in the air. We are fully in the thick of harvest.
After a very warm June, July, and beginning to August, cooler weather returned about two-thirds of the way through August, and it's been relatively cool ever since. In fact, the first week of September has been significantly cooler than normal, with degree days down 24%. We can complete one more month in the heat graph, and you can see that while August is usually about 20% warmer than June, this year it was cooler, though still a touch above our 20-year average:
The cooler respite has been welcome, as there were lots of blocks that were getting close even a few weeks ago, and the cooler weather has allowed us to sequence them a little more gracefully into the cellar. So far, we've picked about 163 tons of fruit, roughly evenly split between reds and whites. The bulk of what we've brought in so far (about 70%) has been purchased fruit for the Patelin de Tablas program, both because many of the Patelin vineyards are in somewhat warmer parts of Paso than we are, and because the grapes that these wines are based on -- Grenache Blanc and Viognier for the white, and Syrah for the red -- are harvested on the early side anyway. We're probably two-thirds done with Patelin.
We're really just beginning the estate harvest. The 50 tons we've picked so far has been mostly Viognier and Vermentino (14 tons each), Syrah (10 tons), Pinot Noir (7 tons) and Grenache Blanc (2 tons). We've also picked most of our Marsanne, though we only got a ton in so far and are expecting yields on this grape to be down. The other grapes offer hope for a more generous harvest, though. In 2015, we only harvested 9 tons of Vermentino and 6 tons of Viognier, totals we've already surpassed with a little more still to come in. One Syrah block (our Syrah "C" clone) we picked just 2.63 tons last year and received 5.16 tons this year, nearly double. Of course, we're comparing quantities to grapes that saw cripplingly low yields in 2015, so it's not like we're seeing a windfall of grapes. But yields look a lot more like 2014 (when we ended up harvesting 298 tons off the estate, just a hair below our 10-year average) than like 2015 (where totals ended up at 215 tons only because our late-ripening grapes were down much less than our early ones). So, while it's early, we're feeling cautiously optimistic about quantities. If we do end up around 2014's totals, that would mean that we're about 17% done so far.
Quality seems super. Our sugar and acid numbers are pretty close to textbook, and we're seeing deep colors and tasting vibrant flavors. We don't see any impact from the two weeks of intermittently smoky weather caused by the nearby Chimney Fire, and feel pretty confident that the smoke wasn't thick enough or long-lasting enough to have left any residue on the grapes.
As for what's next, we're sampling virtually the entire vineyard this week, as well as all the remaining Patelin vineyards. We're expecting most of the Grenache for us to press directly into the Patelin de Tablas Rosé before the end of the week, as well as more Syrah and Marsanne off our own estate, more Grenache Blanc for Patelin Blanc, and the first Grenache for our Patelin red. The floor of the cellar looks like a painter's palette:
In the vineyard, even the latest ripening grapes have completed veraison and are looking (from the outside, at least) like they're ripe. On the inside, however, grapes like Mourvedre (below) are still weeks, maybe even a month, away from being ready to pick. Sugars are still in the mid- to high-teens, pH levels are still in the high 2's, seeds are still green, and flavors are not yet developed. They may look great (and in fact, they make good eating) but we know we have to be patient.
The pattern we've seen so far -- early budbreak, warm summer, then a cooldown as harvest approaches -- reminds us a lot of 2014. Yields seem similar as well. Given that 2014 is the best vintage in our recent memory, that's got to be a good thing. Stay tuned.