"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://corleyfamilynapavalley.com/blog/2011/11/pinot-noir-ebulliometry-the-science-of-vim-vigor/
I guess the two words that best describe this harvest are œlate and œsmall.
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 œhangtime 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 œin the barn. My job's done and now the ball is in Chris' court! More from him soon."
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 œhangtime. 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, œBasically 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.