Thursday, September 23, 2010

Paso's Westside Red Winegrapes still waiting

"Waiting for what?",one might ask. Well, how about some heat and grape sugar(Brix), for starters. Wineries we sell the 95% of our grapes to all ask the same question and all wonder "what in the heck is going on?". Obviously we are all somewhere between 2-3 weeks behind in ripening, but an interesting phenomenon is occuring... at least here on Paso Robles' Westside, and in particular, in our vineyard. Usually our red grapes ripen, and then hang...and hang...and then hang somemore. Last year our Cab Sauv was ready to pick, along with Merlot and Syrah at or near Oct 1st. But, since we, like most other high end wineries don't pick on Brix, but rather on flavor, we waited...and waited, and waited for the flavors to come in. Having ripe grapes on Oct 1st meant we could harvest anytime, but our grapes were just completely, totally without flavor.

So what is going on this yr? Well, we actually had flavor come into our Pinot the first of Sept, but it is now Sept 23, 8 days past every other yr when our Pinot ripened and was picked. Grapes, seeds...all ripe. Brix? How about a strong 22.8. Our best Pinot(remember we are picking on flavor, but follow the Brix, nonetheless) always ripened first, and then, magically on Sept 15 the flavors came in...luscious cherry, a touch of blueberry, some strawberry, cassis...but this yr, flavors have been drifting in, appearing slowly, not en masse, but the Brix has lagged way, way behind. Normal Pinot here is 23.5 to 24.5 when we pick, but a week past normal harvest, we still are only at 22.8 Brix, but with some lovely early flavors. This may be like a Bordeaux yr, where they frequently end up harvesting at lower Brix, 23.5, maybe 24.5, and that is for Bordeauxs, not Pinot(Burgundy). I am almost forced to begin to think the wonderful flavors we have been so blessed with may actually precede the ripened grapes.

Surely that is the case in our Merlot(20 Brix) , Cab (21 Brix), and Syrah(20 Brix). Looking at the berries, which are starting to shrivel, and based on color...deep inky purple black...we should be ripe, and probably at 23, maybe 24 Brix right now, but no...we are sitting at 20-21 Brix. The long cold summer following the long, first warm, then cold, wet winter has obviously upset the apple, make that the grape cart. It is apparent that the grapes are confused at present, and aren't sure whether to, ahem..."either go to the bathroom", or get off the pot. Frankly, I think our grapes are as confused as we are. One other minor...okay, major problem we have, is that it always freezes in our valley vineyard on Sept 15, and then that is followed by 3+ weeks of Indian summer, which we are encouterning now. This Sept 15, however, we only had lows of 34 degrees, followed by a 95 degree day, and that has been our coldest day yet, for the lows. We are set and ready to pick the valley Pinot and Sauv Blanc, but with no frost yet(knock on wood) we don't have to pick...soooo...I am guessing we harvest Pinot this coming Mon or Tues(assuming no frost first).

A couple wineries I know started harvest 10 days ago, then abruptly stopped after first day when it became apparent the Pinot just wasn't ready. Meanwhile, we all sit here, singing intonations and incantations, with fingers crossed, prayers on lips, and the Gods of grapes are looking down, laughing at us. I have to admit it isn't funny ha-ha, but it is funny weird. Never a day goes by when I don't learn something brand new, fascinating, and exhilarating. Well, I am over fascinated and exhilarated at present. This teasing deal is getting old. Please, let's get on with the harvest. To do that, a fair number of westside grapes are going to have to ripen first.

My prediction? Syrah, Cab, and Merlot, which we waited some 3 weeks on last yr as the Brix went up and up, and then up some more, somewhere around 26.8 to 27.5(port, anyone)...well, that Brix with flavor is going to be somewhere around the 23.5 to 24.5 Brix this yr, much like vineyards near my aunt's bakery, in Bordeaux. I really see this as a low Brix yr, with flavors dragging in, instead of ripe grapes waiting for the flavor to come in , as happened last well as most previous yrs. I honestly believe that our Brixes will all top out at no more than 24.5, but that is within keeping of the appearance of the saggy grapes, and the extremely early flavors...that we usually have to wait for.

Stay tuned. One thing for certain...the high alcohol of many of Paso's finest vineyards, are not going to be a concern this yr. Every Nov 1st since I first owned this property in 1984, it has frozen from top to bottom. If that happens this yr, people with heavily cropped vines are going to be harvesting after the first really hard frost. Oh for the joys of the low yield vineyard. We still worry tho.

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