November 24th, 2011
Posted On Behalf of Kevin Corley
My brother, Chris, got you caught up on what’s been happening in the winery with Pinot Noir, our only early red, so now it’s my turn to give you an update on how things went in the vineyard in October. http://www.corleyfamilynapavalley.com/blog/?p=363
I guess the two words that best describe this harvest are “late” and “small”.
Actually, the last three harvests have been late. The three main influences on maturation are heat, light and moisture and these last three years have been noticeably cool, which explains why the grapes have taken their time ripening rather than rushing to the finish line. Kind of like trying to get your tomatoes to ripen on a San Francisco rooftop. The long “hangtime” is terrific for flavor development but a little hard on the nerves.
There are various causes for the low yields but the main influence was ill-timed rain last spring when many varieties were flowering. The rain doesn’t necessarily affect quality, but pollination is impaired which, essentially, thins the crop before it’s even on the vine. Bloom time varies by variety and location so damage was site specific. Our late-to-flower Cabernet Sauvignon yielded just slightly less than normal while we really took a hit in the Chardonnay and Merlot.
Our Knollwood Vineyard Merlot, here in the Oak Knoll District, was late which was no great surprise and yielded just a hair over two tons per acre. The vines are twenty years old, now, so we don’t really expect them to reach the valley average of about four tons per acre, but this is the smallest crop we’ve seen in the last decade. The fruit showed everything you love about Merlot – great texture – so rich and supple with nice, bright flavors.
Our two blocks of Cab Franc are always interesting to watch develop between the differences in soil and the four different clones we planted – five individual blocks in all. Each has its own personality and they show a range of expression from medium bodied with bright fruit to bigger, deeper and more tannic. It gives the wine extra layers of complexity.
We grow Cabernet Sauvignon in three different locations where Cabernet does best: Yountville, Rutherford and St. Helena. The story with Cabernet this year is really great flavor development early on, especially in our Tietjen vineyard in west Rutherford. These are mature vines, planted in the early 80s, the Tietjen vineyard in 1987.
Our Cabernet harvest began on October 20th, one of our latest starts ever, and finished November 2nd. The yields were off just slightly in these vineyards, around 2.5 tons per acre.
After such a challenging vintage it feels good to have all the grapes safely “in the barn.” My job’s done and now the ball is in Chris’ court! More from him soon.