If you didn't know how beautiful a fog bank can be, you haven't spent a summer in Paso Robles. Yesterday, I returned to the vineyard after a weekend in San Francisco to find that I'd somehow brought back the weather with me. The daytime high was just 77°F. The night before dropped down to 43°F. And there was a big, beautiful fog bank sitting over the Santa Lucia Mountains to our west:
Now this weather pattern isn't shocking for us, even in the middle of the summer. Although we get plenty of hot days, we normally see a pattern that builds in heat, tops out over 100°F for a few days, then breaks and we see cooler weather with days topping out in the upper 70s or lower 80s for a few days before it starts to build.
But it was shocking in that this summer, we hadn't seen the breaks hardly at all. In fact, between July 5th and August 19th -- a stretch of six and a half weeks -- the lowest high temperature that we saw was 87°, and the lowest low temperature we saw was 53°. We had 22 days top 100°F. Our average high was 98.8° and our average low 57.6°.
Happily, things have changed over the last ten days. Every one of the days since August 20th would have been the lowest high and the lowest low in the previous 6-week stretch. We averaged a high of 83.3° and a low of 48.5°. And the long-term forecast calls for continued moderate weather. The vineyard appears grateful for the respite; the vines look a lot less stressed to me than they did a couple of weeks back.
In some ways, this year reminds me of 2015, where we had alternating cold and hot months all the way from budbreak in April to the close of harvest in October. Although the periods have lasted longer this year, we are seeing the same cold-hot-cold pattern. I'm hoping that yields aren't as scarce as they were in 2015, when we were deep in the throes of our drought and also saw cold, windy weather during the May flowering period that reduced crop loads on our early grapes by as much as 70%, but it's certain that they'll be down from our 2017 levels. How much is still to be determined. But in character, the 2015s were outstanding, so if that's our baseline, I'm not unhappy.
Because we've largely avoided the temperatures where grapevines photosynthesize optimally (between 85°F and 95°F) we're still trending behind on our harvest. We're thinking it might begin slowly at the end of next week. And we're OK with that. In my trek around the vineyard, I tasted berries from Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Tannat, and Roussanne, and none of them were anywhere near ripe. In fact, most were still only partway through veraison, a month after I wrote about it. A few photos will demonstrate. First, Tannat, where you can see the characteristic blue-black berries intermixed with pink and even green berries at the top of the cluster:
Next, Grenache Blanc. It's harder to see veraison in white grapes, but you can see some berries with a yellow tint, while others toward the center of the cluster are still more green:
And finally Roussanne, which is still resolutely green, not showing any of the characteristic russet coloring that gives the grape its name:
It's worth recapitulating how much later we are than other recent years. Four of the last five years, we'd already started picking off our estate as of August 28th, and the fifth (2017) we were just two days from beginning and had already received some Viognier for the Patelin Blanc. This year? Not so much. We've gone from weather that was too cool to ripen grapes fast to weather that was too hot to gapes ripen fast right back to cool weather, with virtually no transition either time. We're out sampling all our Patelin vineyards, but nothing is imminent. The cellar team has been scrubbing equipment from top to bottom, and everything is sparkling clean. We've installed some new mini-foudres for our white program. The table is set... we're just waiting for the guests to arrive.