Thursday, October 30, 2014

2014 Zowie... Cerro Prieto's most magnificent harvest

Ok, just a quick refresher course on quality of harvest years.

2009 dry and hot, magnificent year.
2010 & 2011  both cold , dark, wet years, lousy for Cab and Merlot, superb for Syrah and Pinot
2012  first of 3 six or seven inch rain years, and magnificent year for big reds.
2013  dry, hot, 7" rain, and spectacular year for big reds.
2014  same as 2013, but 6" rain, vines stressed, but we irrigated heavily from Jan thru late July. This will go down as the greatest year in California history as the best quality harvest ever. With our low yields, 1-2 tons/acre, Pinot , Sauv Blanc, Merlot, Syrah and Cab all will be all time best ever from our vineyard. This should be the same for most California vineyards, but I am speaking about Cerro Prieto in particular. So the better or best vineyards, look for some strikingly outstanding wines, particularly in the big reds.

Here at Cerro Prieto much has changed since the July blog post. Just a little over half our property,
41 acres, has sold to a Texas vintner and owner, Brian Heath of Grape Creek Vineyards , in Fredicksburg, Texas. Brian produces 40,000 cases/yr and has a huge 10,000 member wineclub. He had been looking for a premium vineyard and grapes to produce 2500 cases of premium California wine for his Texas clients. He now owns a little over half our former 71 acres including 15 of our 20 acres of vines. Cerro Prieto retains 5 acres(which we also lease to Heath vineyards) of Cab, Syrah, Pinot and Sauv Blanc, plus we have 200 cases of spectacular 2013 Merlot still in barrel. I had planned to farm the remaining 5 acres and continue our 300 case production, but sadly, health considerations have caused me to change that. We still have some fabulous 2012 Cab and Syrah that we hope to bottle in December, '13 Merlot and Syrah in 2015 , and now our best ever 2014 Cab and Syrah in  2016. Those of you familiar with our Merlots, Syrahs and Cabs know that means truly something extraordinary. We will be bottling 75 cases in Dec, 200 cases in 2015, and 150 cases in 2016. Our three final years will be our best 3 years of wines ever.
Syrah bloc from SE aspect..& moon

That has come at a price, however, and if we don't get rain this year, our vines, along with everyone else's, will suffer. We need that big gully washer rain to leach out the salts that build up from purely well water. A month ago while at the beach in nearby Cayucos, the air and water temps were the same....71 degrees, unheard of for the nearby coast. I firmly believe we are looking at an el nino year like we had in '10 and '11. No way of knowing, but it just feels like it in my bones. Lord knows we need it desperately, here, there , and everywhere else in the West. But California has really suffered in the vineyards, where many folks had  little or no water and had to watch vines wither and die. Most have had water, altho not in abundance, and like us, are waiting out the upcoming rains. Irrigating a solid limestone mountain vineyard helps, but the rainfall is what we really need. All signs point to big rain, but we all will just have to wait and see.
2014 Harvest Syrah (la Terraza bloc) from W aspect . Note dramatic absence of any yellow, orange, or red, fall colors. This fruit was way more than fantastic...our best ever. On this day the fruit smelled and tasted like raspberry, plum, and strawberry. I tried to eat it all, but soon lost the battle. Already superb in barrel.

Mercifully, 20 months of eternal summer has now ended. The chill of autumn is in the air, something that failed to occur last fall. Instead of a vibrant, beautiful autumn, however, 20 months of summer( and drought) has left us with a colorless, drab, fall. No beautiful yellows, oranges and reds to go with the purple blue late autumn afternoons.  Instead we have leaves drying, dying and turning an unremarkable brown. Contrast that to the beautiful colors of year's past, and it seems something basic is missing...and it is ...the beautiful fall colors of the vineyards. Even the deciduous trees are doing the same thing. Green to brown. Only two decorative trees, the Chinese Pistache and the tall, stately decorative Oregon Pear are showing autumn colors. But aside from that it is drab around here. No one around these parts (we've been here since '77, so are old timers) has ever seen three severe drought years back to back to back. So I guess the lack of fall colors is due to that. E side of Paso, overlying the massive Paso Robles aquifer, has seen its wells drop 40, 60, 90 feet. That is simply unheard of and has caused in town water rationing, political fights over what to do next, and worse, has caused retirees on the E. side to sell their homes because they couldn't afford to drill a $100,000 well, some 900 to 1000 feet in depth.  We at Cerro Prieto, continue to be blessed with a monster well, but we sure need some heavy rains to recharge it.
Note the blazing, magnificent colors of 2012 vs the drab colors of this year. 2012 was dry but followed a 54" rainfall in 2011. As a drought year (6" of rainfall), 2012 was a fabulous Cab, Merlot, and Syrah year. This view is from Niner vineyard just around the corner, less than 1/2 mile away.

We have already been fielding questions about what we are going to do re: making wines. Quite simply, we have another 3 years worth of wines in barrel, and the 2012s are very ready for bottling. Look for us to be bringing out our mouth watering 2011 Pinot Noir (equal to or better than our '09 Pinot which won the SF Chronicle Gold medal.) in the spring. Also we probably will have the 2012 Syrah and Cab bottled and ready for mid to late summer. By Dec next year we plan to bottle the '13 Merlot and in 2016 will bottle the 2014 out of sight Cab and Syrah. There is plenty of wine for everyone, but the supply will be limited. We have had requests for buying shares of our wines, still in barrel, so folks can be sure to get their portion of the 3 exquisite years we have coming up. I haven't made a decision on this yet, but if interested, let me know. 2012-2014, inclusive, will be Cerro Prieto's best wines of all time.

Incidentally, I retain the ability to continue to make small lots of Cab and Syrah into the next 5 years, but that will be 100% based on health. Actually, health is good, but back surgery #15 is just around the corner. A lot of what happens with that will determine my making wine in the next 5 years. Mostly, I plan on sharing with our wine club members, the fabulous wines of 2012- 2014 in 2015 thru 2017. The rest is out of my hands. I'll say this...whereas it has been a spectacular life altering experience to live here, create a vineyard out of a limestone mountain, and then make wines commensurate with the best anywhere...this has been a magnificent journey. Now, with no vineyard chores, (there are some minor winemaking chores), it is an entirely different experience to get up in the morning and experience the brilliance of first light breaking over our vineyard... the purples, blues, oranges, and yellows...and then to see the same thing repeat at dusk. I have always loved being in the vineyard to experience these beauties, but with no pressing jobs calling me, it is a very unnatural, but wonderful experience to just sit back and enjoy that magnificent 2006 Paso Bordo, or the even better 2010 Syrah la Terraza as the last rays of orange and purple change all the trees and hillsides to those same iridescent colors.  Even in a drab vineyard year such as this, the alluring autumn colors of  the dawn and dusk remain...and they are truly the work of  God or his angels. Teresa and I have been incredibly fortunate to have lived and worked the last 15 years here. Now we are truly experiencing the joys and beauty of it for the first time, unhindered and unbothered by pressing vineyard or winery must do chores... Without question, we have been blessed.

I promise, no 3 months between blogs from now on. We were rather busy the past 3 months.


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