Today I had a great catch-up conversation with friend and colleague Craig Root, a 30-year winery tasting room and hospitality veteran. Though not a winemaker or grower, Craig has “been there done that” in Sonoma and Napa Valleys for many years and of course has seen many harvests come and go.
He asked me how Harvest 2015 was going and I filled him on what I’ve been experiencing in Napa, Sonoma and on the Central Coast as I pull in grapes for Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, my Buccaneer, Longhand projects and many others. “Well,” he said. “Mother Nature always bats last.”
Indeed she does.
Line drive? Surprise pop fly? Strike out? Here’s what Mother Nature is swinging at us as Harvest 2015 really starts to get underway:
-Yields are down: After three cosy and ample harvests (’12, ’13 and ’14) 2015 is a bit on the lean side tonnage-wise. Many of us will admit that, as with the stock market, it was time for a correction. However- if you’re planning on getting 8 barrels-full of Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir and only come up with enough grapes for 5, that’s a little tough.
-Yields are unpredictable: So far, North Coast Chardonnay seems to be in “average” yields and since I haven’t harvested Napa Cabernet yet can’t speak to these later-ripening varietals. Sauvignon Blanc from Napa was about 20% down from predicted yield for me. Pinot Noir seems to vary by vineyard and even by vineyard block.
-Hurry up and wait: It’s like bases loaded, a hit into McCovey Cove to end the first inning and then….crickets. I’ve pulled in the “early bird” blocks like Block 17 Pinot Noir at Stanly Ranch (Napa Carneros) and Sauvingnon Blanc from Alexander Valley and now, like many of my colleagues, am waiting for the next wave of grapes to ripen. It was an historically early harvest for most of us across the state, still and sparkling wine producers alike, and a heat spike last week got a lot of winemakers a little antsy. We then had about a week of cool weather that slowed everything down again. We’ve been enjoying a few warm days now but it’s slated to cool off again this weekend. I’ve heard rumors of precipitation but it seems to be just that- rumors for those of us south of Eureka.
-Lower Brixes with respect to other signs of ripeness: Could 2015 be a “lower alcohol year” and shift some winery’s styles back into what some would call “Classic Old School” California? Craig, and many of my best sources for wine industry stories, love to regale us young whippersnapper winemakers with tales of lower-alcohol Cabs from the 1970’s and 1980’s that tasted like a dream, aged beautifully and didn’t get you hammered after two glasses. So far, I’m seeing that I don’t need to wait for something to get to 25 Brix to taste ripe. Acids are dropping out quickly, seeds are browning well, and flavors are “popping” – all at moderate Brixes.
Who’s up next? Pinch hitter? Stay tuned…..After all, Willie McCovey was one of the best. But don’t ever forget that, like Craig says, Mother Nature always bats last.
Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners and harvests from all over the North and Central Coasts for her winemaking projects and brands. She lives in Napa. firstname.lastname@example.org @alisoncrowewine
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