A Very Successful Harvest Season

The 2015 harvest season is going to be remembered as the earliest on record. It all began with a mild spring with above average temperatures that triggered the vines to start budding out a bit earlier than usual. August was particularly warm with many days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This caused the white grapes to ripen very quickly and with some of the reds not far behind, a situation that was logistically challenging for a small production cellar….at one point we had every tank full and could not receive more grapes until we emptied a tank and moved into our neutral barrels.

We began harvest with our estate grown Viognier that was picked on August 16th, seven days earlier than in 2014, ten days earlier than in 2013 and twenty days earlier than in 2012. As it is clear, there is definitely a trend here due to “climate change.”  The quality of the white grapes was very high, with very balanced chemistry and not overly ripe. We were extremely focused this year at the vineyard level, walking the vineyards and sampling them often to make sure they didn’t accumulate too much sugar and also that the acid remained high. And that hard work paid off since overall, we produced some of the best whites we have yet produced so far, with a few standouts like Arneis, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend, Tocai Friulano and Rosé of Grenache.

The extreme heat did not allow some of the red grapes we work with to stay on the vine for a long period of time developing flavors and lowering their natural acidity. This situation can result in a bit of an imbalance in the chemistry of the must; too much acid that wasn’t respired or burned out while still on the vine. Having a higher acid translates into having a lower pH, which in some instances can be a desirable thing since it contributes to wines that have a longer longevity. This is especially true for wines that are notorious for having a high pH like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, there are instances where we deal with varietals that are notorious for having too much acid and already a low pH such as Italian varietals Petite Sirah and Carignane. In theses cases, we had to wait as long as possible to pick these grapes so that the acid could be lowered, but always keeping in mind the sugar level so that it wouldn’t go too high.  At the cellar level, we focused on managing the red grapes that came in with too much acid so that they wouldn’t contribute to having a sharp edge and hard finish in the palate. The great news is that most of the red grapes came in with a very good balance of sugar/acid and looking very healthy. There are also some standouts such as Pinot Noir, Nero D’Avola, Negroamaro, Carignane and Grenache.

The fermentations were very good and sound from a microbial point of view. We inoculated (added commercial yeast) to all the whites but relied on native yeast (wild yeast that comes from the vineyard or that is in the winery) to carry out primary fermentations on all the reds.  Fermenting with native yeast leads to healthier fermentations with a constant fermentation rate and without heat spikes, both very important since yeast cells are very susceptible to drastic changes in their environment, a situation that can lead to having a sluggish or incomplete fermentation.

To summarize, it was a very early harvest season and we hustled with the intensity of picking grapes so early in Mendocino County (or anywhere in California). It was not only an early one but also a very fast.   We had whites and reds coming in at the same time and we had to work hard logistically speaking to keep everything under control and running smoothly. The quality of the grapes was kept high resulting in white wines that are fruit-forward and very balanced, and with red wines that have full and bold flavors in most instances with a few of lots benefiting from having a little extra acid in them. It was a very successful harvest season. I will conclude by saying, I believe this year will proved to be one of the strongest vintages yet!