But a not so subtle change has occurred this yr, in which is our daily 60-70 degree temperature split day/nite has disappeared...First time...ever. What we have had for the past 37 days and counting, has been temps in the 103-112 range, with a few 115s thrown in, which drop to 65-70 degrees at nite. On the days when it got to only 100, it was 60 that nite. To some that sounds amazing, but to us, we have come to expect that 5:30 p.m. fog that routinely blows in from the coast, via the Templeton Gap. We are currently getting only 40 degree temp swings, but when you normally have 60-70 degree swings, it has made for some hair curling times. Stressing grapes with 60-70 degree temp swings brings out the best in moutain grape flavors, and is notable in our wines. With daytime temps well over 100, a mere 40 degree temp swing does not cool off the pulp temperatures in grapes. At 10 p.m., core temps of grapes remains in the 90s. With the severe heat beginning in mid morning, the grapes once again heat up, never attaining the cooling we normally expect.
The heat here has actually been worse than in the Central Valley which produces primarily table grapes, and for those, the hotter the better. Valley heat never really "cools off" in the evenings. With premium redwine grapes, the issue of scorching, or "burning up" grapes has been a daily concern. For the last 6 years we have essentially dry farmed, except on days exceding 105, when we put 3 gallons of water on each vine. To not do so risks the health of the vine, not to mention "cooking off" the grapes. Since our 3 mountain vineyards are planted in solid limestone, when it is 105 degrees outside, in the middle of the vineyard it is 10 degrees hotter, due to reflected heat from the limestone. And when it is 112 outside...well you do the math on inside the vineyard. It is unbearably hot...hence the need for nightime cooling.
In any event, the long wait for harvest has been seemingly much longer than times past. Our Pinot went thru veraison 2 months ago, and has been looking ready to harvest since August. Grapes are tasty, dark purple, but still have not attained the flavors we normally achieve. There have been signs of ripening:
Lignification---the canes going from green fiber to a beautiful dark red-brown mahogany wood
Seed changes---seeds go from green to dark mahogany brown; these need more time
Sauv Blanc---green grapes change to subtle greenish-brown; birds got the brown ones
Flavor, the ultimate goal before harvest, does not appear until the above changes have been noted. Pinot is virtually there, and Sauv Blanc the same. That is great timing in that it should freeze tomorrow, the 16th of September.
5 a.m., and the magnificent Orion the Hunter constellation is so bright I can find my way back up the mountain without lights. Gemini, the twins, is just above Orion, is not as bright, but equally spectacular on this moonless night. Checking a few temps in the la Teresa bloc of Cabernet, shows temps exactly 60 degrees, the normal 18 degree differential from the Cold Valley Vineyard. Done with early morning chores, it is so beautiful out that I linger for first light and then the spectacular early morning dawn breaking over la Teresa bloc.
Yes, it is scene worthy of a canvas, but I am content to just sit here and just absorb it as the entire eastern sky goes thru its retinue of magical wondrous colors. It gives me time to think about the agony nature puts us through, waiting on ripening, hoping that:
no early hard frost comes to the Cold Valley Vineyard
rains stay away until harvest is over
winter freezes don't materialize early in mountain vineyards
birds and other pests don't steal our crop
There are many other lesser worries, but I shan't bore you with those. What generally takes 2 months to happen, once grapes turn purple (veraison), seems like endless time to those wishing ripeness to come, and flavor to be even better than last year. Based on numbers, TA, pH, and Brix(sugar content), we could have harvested some time ago. But we harvest on flavor, and for that one waits...painfully...but one waits. Growing grapes is one thing. Harvesting premium redwine grapes on flavor is entirely different. For that a grower/vintner has to have tons of patience, above average tolerance for hoping no interceding disasters befall the crop, and needs to taste thousands of grapes daily to know when the grapes are finally perfect for harvest. Thousands of tons of grapes will be harvested by the time we harvest. That is the way with mountain vineyards. But the payoff in flavor and quality is well worth it. It is, however, the long wait.
Post script: Sept. 17, and the Very Cold Valley Vineyard was 32 degrees at 4 a.m. Mother Nature is right on track. Full of magnificent flavors, both Pinot and Sauv Blanc are ready for harvest.