Saturday, March 5, 2011
Time for pruning...oops, it just snowed
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.