Harvest Update from Nate Weis: August 24, 2015

Final update

We managed to escape the heat last weekend and early this week and water was used wisely to keep canopies healthy and grape berries hydrated. The forecasts now call for a stable period of seasonal temperatures well within the ripening and vine function ranges, although we are keeping our eyes on the possibility of showers next weekend (August 29th). The beginning of this week we saw the return of a thick and stubborn marine layer that took a long time to burn off: a welcome homecoming in our eyes.

In the fields, flavors are progressing in all varieties, but there is a sense of tranquility as sample chemistries, like the weather, are stabilizing and offering the opportunity for patience. An interesting marker of this vintage is surprisingly small berry sizes. Pinot noir has a well-documented tendency towards producing hens and chicks (clusters with berries of different sizes and levels of maturity. Normal sized berries are the “hens,” smaller berries are the “chicks”) but it is especially prevalent in many vineyards this year. We’ve coined the term “chicks and chicks©”. It’s catchy, we know.

In the Bordeaux varieties, we are seeing berry weights 20-30% lower than what we consider the “standard” for the individual varieties, in large part due to the drought. The ideal time for controlling berry weights is between bloom and veraison, and the relative lack of rain has let us control soil and thus plant moisture very closely through irrigation. This is in many ways the crux of the precision farming techniques that the vineyard team have been using for a number of years. I should note that the reason we want small berries is that they are generally a great starting point for making high quality red wines.

As with everything viticultural and enological, however, small berries are a double-edged sword. Over-extraction with such low berry weights is a real concern and possibility, so we will be adjusting our fermentation protocols as needed. This is yet another example of how growing grapes and making wine is a series of seemingly unrelated but actually inter-connected decisions and actions.

Our shout-outs this week: (1) to kitchen staff. They came in a few hours early last Saturday and made breakfast for our crews picking Sauvignon Blanc. It was a huge hit, after all, it takes the Whole Bunch to raise a wine. (2) to Nick Filice, our Grower Relations Manager, who this time of year has to play grower psychologist/therapist, brutal truth deliverer and logistics coordinator.

The Twomey Healdsburg winery has continued on a hectic pace in their second week of crush. Russian River Pinot Noir from Last Stop Ranch and Westpin Vineyard has been a steady stream this week and Ferrington Vineyard (Anderson Valley) and Bien Nacido Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley) were picked out by the middle of the week. There is one more block of Sauvignon Blanc in Oakville to pick (likely early next week) and we started harvesting the Sauvignon Blanc at Twomey Healdsburg Thursday. Fermentations are very active, barrels are being filled with Sauvignon Blanc and the crew is not far from pressing the first Pinot tanks.

Our Geyserville Winery will get started next week with Cabernet from the Reynoso Vineyard and/or a partner vineyard in the hills above Geyserville. A couple of Alexander Valley vineyards are approaching ripeness, and others are not far behind. Some parts of the Alexander Valley are a little behind and the Cabernet tsunami will start in 12-18 days according to my crystal ball.

We crushed Cabernet in Oakville from the Milat Vineyard in what I am told is the earliest pick in Silver Oak’s history, so Oakville is officially open. It will be a few more days before the next pick of the year as we wait for other vineyards and blocks to ripen.

In honor of the unusual and non-customary, this week’s quote comes from the esteemed Hunter S. Thompson (also of Colorado):

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

-Nate Weis

August 24, 2015