Friday, September 2, 2011

Cerro Prieto and Paso Robles Westside vineyards: bouncing back from horrid weather

Well, last post was 2 months ago, but it isn't as if I have been dawdling. There has been more work this yr than virtually any in the past, almost all the result of the bizarre weather we have had to endure. Much of this has to do with increased mowing, thinning, hedging of canes and weed control, all due to the incredible 52" of rain we racked up which makes weeds as well as vines overgrow. Last post I mentioned "bomb damage assessment" but had no real feel for what we would actually end up with in the vineyard. Believe it or not, it has taken most of last 2 mos. to actually get a feel for where we are, yieldwise as well as quality wise. First off, I would be fibbing if I told you that I, as well as a bunch of other grower/vintners have not been  holding our collective breaths over this year's crop. You all recall we had winter finally end in June, we essentially skipped Spring, and then we prayed for some heat and light in "summer".

Without consulting my log books, I can tell you for certain that we have had at least  ten hot days of summer with light from 6 a.m. until dark. Yup, that has been our summer, following a nuclear winter and spring. We have had an inordinate amount of fog, and as one vineyard manager stated, "You can't find stylet oil or Kalligreen anywhere in the county, nor the state".  Translation: we have had the worst set up for fog of any of the 34 yrs I have lived in Paso's North County. Our unprecedented fog, which has required extremely strict attention being paid to doing mildew sprays every 20 days, has caught some growers by surprise, in that most yrs if you miss a mildew spray by a week or two , it really doesn't matter. We at Cerro Prieto have been meticulous about this since our inception, and this yr it really paid off. Sure I can go thru all 20 miles of vines (that is equivalent of 20 acres with a 5'x 10' spacing) and find an occasional early mildew cluster, which I just remove along with several clusters on either side of the mildewed one. But we do not have acres of mildew just covering virtually all vines, as I have seen in some vineyards.  I hate to think what those poor "greenies", or all organic grape farmers are doing. Fog has not been just a problem in Paso, it has been a problem everywhere. The organic guys can't use much more than stylet oil and one or two other modalities for mildew control. Altho I know of no all organic vineyards personally, I would not like to be in their shoes at the present.

So it is now September, early fall, and Cerro Prieto's temps have made for wonderful living climate...but not so bueno for wine grape growing. If temperatures don't get much above 60 degrees, not much photosynthesis takes place. Also on the heat/light chart we were some 3-4 weeks behind 2 months ago when we entered a cool summer. Frequently, the fog lifts at noon, sometimes later.  I don't even want to see how far behind we are now, but that isn't necessary when we ended up going thru bloom a month late and then verasion 6 weeks late(in Merlot and some Cab) especially. Here on Paso's westside, there have been many vineyards that have virtually no Cab clusters, or very little , and same goes for Pinot, Merlot, Syrah. The old investor's saying, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket" was really brought to the fore this year, as some vineyards lost almost all their Pinot Noir(ours is spectacular). Others lost all their Merlot or Syrah, or as noted above Cab. Of our 5 varietals, Pinot noir and Sauv blanc fared best (down in our cold valley vineyard), Syrah came pretty close to being a normal yield, and Cab fared the worst. More on that in a moment. The verdict on Cerro Prieto's Merlot is still out, as it is just now going thru verasion...something it should have done 4 to 5 weeks ago. Normally our Merlot goes thru verasion mid July, yet here we are on Sept 2nd, and we are just starting. Whether the Merlot ripens before frost is going to be either very close or not at all. We just have to wait on this one. Back to the "all eggs in one basket" adage, this is a good yr to not have all your vines be of one variety.

Okay, now to specifics, about which people have been pestering me with questions over and over.

Left to right, are clusters of Cab Sauv, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Sauv Blanc. Here are the numbers:

Cab  4 oz (normal = 5 oz)                    clusters/vine 14 ( normal = 22)
Syrah 5.8 oz (normal =6.4 oz)             clusters/vine 14 (normal = 20
Merlot  5 oz  (normal= 6 oz)               clusters/vine  16 (normal= 22)
Pinot Noir  3.0 oz (normal= 3.0 oz)    clusters/vine 10 (normal= 12)
Sauv Blanc 4.8 oz (normal= 4.8 oz)    clusters/vine 18 (normal= 18)

In summary, Cab production should be down about 1/3. Bad news is that many of those clusters may have as many as half the grapes in "shot berry" form, due to incomplete pollination, or an "event" such as a pair of frosts during bloom, plus 1 rain during bloom, plus 2 hails during bloom. The weight of the cluster I picked at random above does not represent some 40-50% of those Cab grapes with half a cluster of non usable, bitter, tannic shot berries).You hope they come off in the destemmer attached to the rachus(stem), but frequently they do not, and hence can adveresely affect the flavor and character of the wine itself. Mistral tables(vibrating sorting tables) can help out here but Cab looks to be a really tough grape to destem without having a bunch of shot berries in the mix. (This means lots more time spent on sorting tables, among other things). Put this all together and I am guessing our Cab crop to be down as much as 50%.

Syrah is coming along fine with superb flavor, slightly smaller clusters, and decr # of clusters looks to decr tonnage by 1/3.

Merlot could also be down by 1/3, but verasion is the real question. Will these beauties even ripen?

Pinot looks to be down by 20%, based on cluster count. Cluster size appears normal, and flavor is a world beater. Also Pinot got thru bloom with only a few clusters lost/vine.

Sauvignon Blanc, our most recent addition did best, with both cluster size and count and size same as last yr. Altho we have netted and used bird distress calls, birds really like our Sauv Blanc which looks to be most productive of all blocks. The quality is spectacular, and birds know it.

From the above, it is appears best to not have had all "eggs in one basket". Growers with all Pinot or all Cab or all Merlot, really got lumped up. Of course, it does matter where exactly one's vineyard is on the westside, as adjacent vineyards may have entirely different varietals that did well. Altho this blog post is more technical than most I write, it has taken until virtually Fall to tell what we actually have. Those fewer grapes we do have will be chock full of flavor. How many we actually ripen?...well, that's another matter. Meanwhile our 91 pt '07 Merlot is tasting fantastically well, and the 91 pt  '07 Paso Bordo(Cab/syrah) is tasting better yet. Our '08 Cab and '08 Merlot both have a shot at being even better than our current wines. Make an apptmt, come by and try them out.

We all look forward to seeing you during harvest fest and to seeing how our wines have matured over the past year. You will not be disappointed.

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