Tired, passionate eyes. The luscious smell of fruit fermenting in tanks. Team lunches. Coffee, lots of coffee (and donuts). Early mornings. Late nights. Pressing and then pressing again. Incorporating the word “brix” into your everyday vocabulary. Welcome to harvest.
A Late Harvest
Patience is the name of the game right now. This harvest has been an interesting one because of the timing. We saw spikes in weather throughout summer that threw off our usual schedule for harvest (many of us were shocked that we had Labor Day off).
The last time we saw later harvests were in 2009 and 2011 because of the cooler growing seasons. The issue wineries could run into with a later harvest is having to pick all the grapes at once to avoid the rain.
“When you pick it all at once, it can strain the winery’s ability to find a home for all the grapes,” Winemaker Brian Brown said.
Growing years are often defined by Mother Nature. This year, the climates pushed back ripening, starting with a cool spring that delayed bud break. Then, in mid-season, we had about two weeks of triple-digit heat which caused a lot of vines to not work on ripening fruit.
Luckily, the mild weather post-verasion has allowed us to let the fruit hang and fully mature without excessive sugar accumulation.
We are extremely lucky to be able to play with fruit from two different vineyards. We are seeing a beautiful balance of fruit maturity and fruit integrity from what we have picked.
We have harvested the majority of our Kiler Canyon fruit because the climate in Willow Creek is a bit warmer and the fruit tends to ripen quicker. This year, we will use Tempranillo from both vineyards in our Indie Rosé, making it 100% estate fruit.
Our ONX Estate Vineyard is located in the Templeton Gap which has the coolest climate in Paso Robles. This vineyard allows us to play with fruit that may not grow in the warmer parts (Sauvignon Blanc for example). We have, however, picked about 75% of our whites and rosé from our Estate.
We may be able to have a steady flow of fruit that will allows us to press off in tanks and put to bed in progression with receiving new fruit.
The remaining fruit from ONX Estate should start rolling in mid-October. A lot of our varieties are hanging out in the 22-24 brix range and sugars can progress quite rapidly above 25. It’s a matter of how many of those varieties topple over the edge of the bell curve at the same time.
Camaraderie in the Cellar
Our production crew knows how to make hard work fun. Music is constantly playing in the fermentation room, everyone pitches in to help make lunch and they have created their own harvest family. Brown said his favorite part of harvest is definitely the lunches. Our Assistant Winemaker, Drew Nenow, agrees that the crew we have is special.
“For anyone that has been through a ‘hell week’ in football, or some sort of boot camp, there is a ‘misery loves company’ component that really puts things in perspective,” Nenow said. “Although the days are long and the work is hard, you know the girl and guy right next to you is going through the same exact thing. And to boot, we have an amazing crew that I feel so blessed to be working with.”
The End Goal
Since most of our grapes are still hanging, they are giving us the opportunity to achieve optimum ripening. We’re seeing uncharacteristic hang time for the red varietals as sugar levels are progressing much more gradually. Acid levels are retaining which allows for the phenolic development of the skins and seeds to catch up and progress along with sugar maturity. This can offer a vintage in which we allow the fruit to hang and monitor phenolic development without any worry of sugar levels and pH levels getting out of balance.
In short, this vintage could prove to produce some age-worthy and balanced wines.