Saturday, March 5, 2011

Time for pruning...oops, it just snowed

Many are now well familiar with Paso's Westside famous vineyards and wines. Many of you have been here for our eco vineyard tours, and most have tasted our 90+ point wines. Some may have seen the beginnings of early pruning, and others have been here just shortly thereafter. But no one has seen this place, well into pruning, and in the midst of a snowstorm. A day after the snow fell, we still had it on all our upper elevations, in our top blocs of Cab and Syrah. The above picture captures two things: first is the neatly stacked rows of prunings awaiting the flail mower. Second is the 2 inches of snow sitting on top of the prunings. We pointedly wait as long as possible to prune, which in turn delays our bud break as well as our bloom. Since we are a mountain vineyard, the cold mountain valleys are setups for late frosts, sometimes well into May. If we happen to be in the midst of bud break, or bloom, for that matter, the last thing we want is to see a hard spring frost. Hence, we are usually the very last vineyard to prune, but as you can see from the picture above, it looks like that didn't make much difference... it snowed anyway. Whatever, no harm done in that we are still a long way from bud break and much farther away from bloom. But to look out and see our entire vineyard covered in snow for two days...well,  I will have to admit, it did take my breath away.

Global warming has come to Paso's Westside vineyards...the heart of the heart of wine country. But rather than warming it has gotten colder, both in degree, and in length of time it stays cold. El Nino, which visited us once again this year, brought with it the moisture, only this time in addition to rain and icy fog, we also got snow...lots of it. Last year was a record for the north county of San Luis Obispo, in that we set an all time low for heat/light days. Put simply that means that we had less heat and sun to ripen with and significantly less time in which to do it. Many days last year had nasty bone chilling fogs lifting by noon, only to return some two hours later. If ever there were a year to have vines pruned to low yields, this was it. Those folks who had 4, 5, maybe as much as 8-10 tons/ acre, got rammycackled...their grapes just flat out didn't ripen. Virtually all the well known vineyards surrounding us hang anywhere from 1.0 to 2.5 tons/ acre, and subsequently, virtually everyone nearby ripened...the flavors came in, but at a much lower brix(sugar content) than we usually have. Normally, by Oct 1st we have ripe grapes, but they are virtually without flavor. Only with patient waiting, and sampling of thousands of grapes do we see our flavors come in much later in October, typically between the 21st and 30th. This yr our flavors came in as per usual, later in October, but at a much, much lower brix; it was a Bordeaux harvest, at 24.5 brix. Compare that to virtually all our other harvests in last 5 yrs, which were at 27.8 to 28.5 brix before their flavors came in. Having the ability to wait on flavors in a mountain vineyard is a luxury. In our cold valley vineyard, the Pinot and Sauv Blanc came off with full flavors at 24.5, but on Sept 20th,, almost a month before the Cab, Syrah, and Merlot.

Clients and wine club members frequently ask, "So what does the low brix harvest mean? Will there be less flavor, more tannins, or what?" The answer is simply that our alcohols will be notably less than normal  12.5 to 13.5% vs. our usual 15.9 to 16.9%. As for flavors, again, had we harvested on the day we hit 24.5 brix, we would have had a virtually flavorless wine. By waiting out the eventual arrival of flavors we have a  wine that will guaranteed to be full of cherry, blackberry, plum, with maybe a bit of blueberry or strawberry in two of our Cab blocs. It just won't be as high an alcohol, something some wine critics...and a few wine aficionados...don't like. In every sense of the word, this harvest was as close to a Bordeaux harvest as we will get. Oops, maybe it's better not to say that in that we are starting off cold again this year. We will hope that we have the summer heat, the warm sunny days, but if not...well, we just proved that we can take the cold weather and still make a great wine. Given a choice, however, I would prefer the hotter, drier conditions.

Whatever the temperature, whatever the weather, it is still a great time to stop by our tasting room downtown at the Meritage Tasting Room and enjoy our 91 and 92 pt. wines. For those not familiar with our nationally known wines...rain or snow, sunshine or not, our Cab/Syrah, and Merlot are always a treat for the true wine aficionados, or the newest of beginners. We invite you to come visit and wine taste with us.

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