On Thursday, with the bin of Roussanne pictured below, we completed the 2023 harvest. Well, mostly, at least. We completed the last pick. There's still some of that pick that is sitting on straw in one of our greenhouses, working to get that last little bit of concentration. This last pick was a full month later than the last pick in 2022. If you've been following along with the growing season, that won't be a surprise. But it's still a relief.
2023 was our coolest year since 2011. That cool weather, combined with a late start thanks to our record rainfall last winter, meant that we came out of dormancy late, hit every marker late, and harvested late. At the beginning of October we were only 10% done, and with El Nino looming in the Pacific, had real worries as to whether or not we'd get the crop in before it started to rain. But we got lucky. The weather warmed up in October, the rain (and frosts) held off, and we were able to pick everything. Check out the degree days trend for the year. 2023 is the bold, red dotted line. The key inflection point is at the beginning of October, at which it bends back up and since we've seen more-or-less average heat accumulation:
Another way of looking at the cool year is going month by month compared to normal. We've had two months that were slightly warmer than average (July and October), three that were slightly cooler than normal (April, May, and August), and two that were significantly chillier than normal (June and September):
As you would suspect, the cool September didn't exactly cause fruit to come tumbling in. But once it warmed up in October, things shifted into high gear. That month included our busiest-ever week of over 140 tons between October 8th and 14th. In the chart below, blue is purchased fruit for the Patelin or Lignée programs, and orange estate-grown fruit. While the timing of the arrival of our purchased grapes is more variable, the estate fruit forms an almost perfect bell curve:
Yields were up 39.9% overall off the estate vs. 2022, which sounds amazing, but it's more a reflection of how low 2022 was than that 2023 was some crazy windfall. We also have some new acreage in production, which means that even with all those new grapes we averaged 3.04 tons/acre. A list of our other vintages that saw crop levels right around 3 tons per acre reads like a "greatest hits" collection and includes 2003, 2007, 2014, 2016, and 2019. But it's worth noting that there's a lot of variation in how different grapes did this year. The grapes that were up sharply were either the whites that were impacted by last year's frosts (Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Picpoul, and Roussanne) plus Grenache Noir, which saw the most significant increase in producing acreage. Other grapes were flat or even (in the cases of Viognier and Cinsaut) down a bit:
|Grape||2023 Yields (tons)||2022 Yields (tons)||% Change vs. 2022|
In trying to pull out trends that aren't just reflections of 2022's weirdness, it seems to me that early grapes (like Viognier, Marsanne, Cinsaut, and Syrah) were pretty much flat compared to last year's low levels, so below-average historically. Vermentino and Grenache Blanc look like exceptions to that rule, but they were frozen last year and even their healthier yields this year are a little below our long-term norms. The grapes that flowered and ripened in the middle of the cycle (think Grenache Noir, Tannat, and Bourboulenc) all saw above-average yields and in many cases were up notably from last year. And the late-sprouting grapes like Counoise, Mourvedre, and Roussanne were somewhere in the middle, up from last year but still around our long-term averages.
Ideally, the outstanding vine health this year pays us off in two ways. First, all that leaf area combined with relatively modest yields should translate into great intensity in the wines. That's consistent with what we're seeing with the deep colors and dramatic flavors in the wines we're tasting so far. But the second payoff is that the cane growth and this year's lack of frosts should put the vines in position to produce well next year too. The buds that will produce next year's growth, after all, are already formed. They're just waiting for the arrival of spring to show themselves.
We had 129 harvest lots, an increase of 14 vs. 2022. These included 12 more estate lots (94 instead of 82), two more Lignée lots (4 instead of 2) and the same number of Patelin lots (31). The combination of the increased fruit off the estate and some larger Patelin lots meant that we processed 35% more fruit this year than we did in 2022. No wonder the cellar team was ready to celebrate! In the photo below of our harvest chalkboard, estate lots are in white, while purchased lots are green. Each line represents one pick. And yes, we have five more lots that we're going to have to figure out how to fit into those last three lines:
One way that you can get a quick assessment of a vintage is to look at average sugars and acids. Since 2010, our average degrees Brix and pH at harvest:
|Year||Avg. Sugars||Avg. pH|
It's been a long time since we saw sugar and (especially) pH numbers like this. In fact, you need to go back to 2010 to find a comparable year. How big a difference does 0.19 pH points make? A lot more than you might think. pH is measured in a logarithmic scale, so a pH of 3 has ten times the concentration of acid ions as a pH of 4. So the average pH of 3.51 is 55% more acidic than the average pH of 3.70 we saw last year. That's why Chelsea described what we were seeing as "dream chemistry" in an Instagram Live we recorded mid-harvest. We can thank this year's cooler weather and lack of heat spikes for the vibrant acids, but I also think it points to the health of the vineyard thanks to the ample rain last winter and the years of regenerative farming that have allowed it to hold that water in a zone where the vines' roots can find it.
Of course, just because we've finished picking doesn't mean that we're done with our cellar work. There are still plenty of lots to be pressed off, tanks to be dug out, and fermentations to monitor. But it feels different than it does earlier in harvest, when you're emptying tanks to make room for the next pick. We've already put a couple of our open-top fermenters outside, along with our sorting table and destemmer. And now, when we press something off and clean a tank out, that's the last time of the season:
In character, it's early to tell what things will be like, but I asked Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi to sum up the vintage, and she was enthusiastic: "the long ripening really helped us out with the depth and intensity. Even this early the aromas are so nuanced, layered, and complex. If this is a sign of things to come I think we've got a really exciting vintage ahead of us." We're all looking forward to getting to know the wines of 2023 even better in coming weeks.
With rain in the forecast for later this week, we've been pushing to get the vineyard prepped for winter. We've been spreading compost, seeding cover crop, and laying straw on our vineyard roads:
Just as this year has gone since the beginning, it looks like we'll get it done just in time. We've been telling ourselves, for what feels like months, that we'll have a rest when we get to Thanksgiving. It looks like that's about right. And there will be plenty to give thanks for.