Harvest 2017 Recap: Fast Start and Finish, Solid Yields, and Plenty of Concentration
October 25, 2017
Last week, with the threat of our first rainstorm on the horizon -- key word here is threat, as it didn't pan out -- we brought in the last lingering blocks of Mourvedre, Roussanne, and Counoise. And then, all of a sudden, we were done. Sure, there are a few lots we're still waiting for, as they sit concentrating on straw in our greenhouse. But the picking, at least, is through. No wonder our cellar crew was ready to celebrate:
The harvest came in two large waves, with a significantly less busy stretch in between. The first surge was kicked off by a record heat wave that sent temperatures soaring over 102°F nine days in a row in late August and early September, and included the majority of our purchased grapes for the Patelin de Tablas wines. The slow interlude corresponded with nearly three weeks of temperatures more than 5°F cooler than normal. When, by early October, things heated up again (modestly this time) most of the late-ripening grapes on our estate were nearly ready, and we had a pretty continuous run between October 2nd and October 19th, picking 16 of 19 days in that stretch. You can see the double-peaked workflow in the chart below. In the chart, blue is purchased fruit for the Patelin program, and orange estate grown fruit:
Yields were the best we've seen since the twin vintages of 2005 and 2006, up about 20% from 2016. On the one hand, this should be unsurprising, given that we got good rainfall last winter after five years of drought. But you still never know, and midway through the summer, we were all thinking that harvest was going to be at average or slightly above average quantities. To have it among our most productive vintages ever was somewhat of a surprise. The complete picture:
|Grape||2017 Yields (tons)||2016 Yields (tons)||% Change vs. 2016|
Overall yields ended up at 3.62 tons per acre, about 20% above our ten-year average. Other years in which we've seen yields around 3.5 tons per acre have included 2005, 2006, 2010, and 2012, which includes some of our favorite vintages. Like 2005 (the vintage that this reminds me the most of) this year followed a multi-year drought, and the obvious health of the vines suggested that they were able to ripen the relatively healthy yields with concentration and character.
*If you're wondering why Roussanne has an asterisk, there are two reasons. First is that there's still a little Roussanne concentrating in our greenhouses, to be added to the total. It won't amount to much (a ton, more or less) but it's there. The second reason is that it's worth noting that at least some of the decline comes because we pulled out an acre or so of Roussanne this winter. We also pulled out a couple of acres of Syrah, but the Syrah total is augmented by the fact that the year before, we grafted over about two acres of Roussanne to Syrah. So, Roussanne has seen a bit of a double-whammy in recent years. We'll be planting some more Roussanne soon.
Another way that you can get a quick assessment of concentration is to look at average sugars. Since 2007, the average degrees Brix and pH:
|Year||Avg. Sugars||Avg. pH|
You'll note that 2017's sugars saw a rebound after the lower levels in 2015 and 2016. This is a sign of the health of the vines. The higher pH levels seem to have been a result of the stress that the early-harvest heat wave produced, as well as a reflection of the overall warm summer. In the 2017 growing season, only May was cooler than average, with April, June, and July particularly warm. Overall, 2017 was our second-warmest year ever, just a hair cooler than 2014 and about 10% warmer (measured in degree days) than our 20-year average. The chart below summarizes (October's information is for the first 19 days, as we picked our last significant block on October 19th):
We picked even more lots this year (124) than last, and we ran out of space on our harvest chalkboard. Note the number of times that you see Roman numerals after a pick, particularly toward the end of harvest: those are the blocks that we picked multiple times:
The duration of harvest -- 54 days -- was exactly at our average this millennium. Both the beginning (August 30th) and the end (October 23rd) were a little earlier than our average since 2000, but not by much: about 4 days. That said, we started later than we have since 2012, and finished later than 2013, 2014, and 2016. The fact that 2017 saw a later budbreak than recent years pushed everything into a more normal time frame than we've seen recently, but it was still a warm year.
In character, it's early to tell what things will be like, but so far, we're excited. I asked Winemaker Neil Collins to sum up the vintage based on his tastings, and his response was, "full, and great structure, and lovely acidity... just what we wanted it to be." Given that Neil, like most winemakers, tend to focus on the shortcomings they see in the immediate aftermath of harvest, this is a pretty resounding endorsement. We'll know more, of course, in coming weeks.
The last project for us for harvest 2017 is to make our first Vin de Paille "Sacrérouge" since 2014. This traditional dessert wine-making technique involves drying newly-harvested Mourvedre clusters on straw, and only pressing and beginning fermentation when they have reached our desired level of concentration -- typically around 35° Brix -- after 2-3 weeks. [For more details on how and why it's done, see our blog Vin de Paille: A Dessert Wine Making Technique for the Obsessed from a few years back]. The Mourvedre we'll be using for this project is currently sitting on the straw, and we expect to bring it in and start fermentation later this week.
Now that the fruit is in, it's welcome to start raining any time. Meanwhile, we're enjoying the autumnal views of the vineyard without having to worry that the cooler nights and the likelihood of future precipitation -- our first chance, it appears, may come as early as the first few days of November -- might negatively impact our harvest.