Posted by Chris on Monday October 31, 2011
Posted By : Kevin Corley
As we go into the final weeks of harvest, I thought you might like to get a little update on how things are shaping up.
I love to talk about the first half of harvest because, in spite of some unusual weather – heavy spring rains, a summer never really showed up – this should be a fantastic year for early-ripening varieties. For us it means Montreaux (our sparkling wine), Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Even though the cool conditions can cause some hand-wringing about getting the crop ripe, we’re already seeing the benefit of a prolonged ripening season.
You’ve probably heard references to the term “hangtime”. It’s literal – the amount of time the grapes spend maturing on the vine. And, when cool conditions stretch out the growing season it can mean exceptionally good flavor maturity. We’re all for that!
Pinot Noir is one of the few early-ripening reds and we finished harvesting it by the end of September. Large yields and Pinot Noir are incompatible if you want any character or flavor intensity, so we’ve got it on low-vigor rootstock. Most years we eek out about 2.5 tons an acre and this year our yields were just slightly less. My brother Chris, our winemaker, is ecstatic about the quality of the fruit. We picked a few weeks later than usual but at about the same brix (sugar) as last year. As he says, “Basically that means we enjoyed three extra weeks of flavor and tannin development without the brix getting too high. We’re looking forward to rich, dark fruit, ripe tannins and moderate alcohols. I think it will be yummy. Perhaps magical…” It’s doubly satisfying to have such a good year for Pinot because it’s Dad’s first love.
As expected, our Chardonnay was late coming in and the yields were down by about 30%, just under two tons per acre. It got caught in the rain last June, when it was flowering, and pollination was impaired. While we think of Chardonnay as a September variety, we’ve continued the harvest into October, now, three vintages in a row. Because of slight variations in our soils here at our home ranch in Oak Knoll, we have three separate blocks of Chardonnay, each adding to complexity by contributing something a little different. It creates a nice mix of fresh flavors like apple, pear and citrus along with richer elements like crème brûlée, apple pie and lemon meringue pie.
It was great to see these thin skinned varieties safely “in the barn” before Mother Nature threw us a curve ball earlier this month. More on that soon.