2014 Harvest Reflections

The 2014 harvest is officially behind us. Rain is hitting the ground and we are preparing for the December bottling of our 2014 Rose. The rest of the 2014 wines are completing malo-lactic fermentation and we can now start reflecting on the harvest.

 

  • Warmth- The warm weather started early. In January many regions in California reported bud-break 2 months earlier than normal. Although we had bud-break in March here at Halter Ranch, I firmly believe that the vines’ metabolism jump-started in January. Grapevines have an internal clock which dictates the amount of energy the vines need to ripen fruit.  Once this clock starts ticking it can’t be stopped. Weather patterns may accelerate or slow down specific growing stages (ex. warm weather will speed up veraison- the changing of color from green to red in red wine grapes), but the overall growing cycle of vines is difficult to stop. Harvest was the earliest I’ve seen in my 15 years of winemaking. This was the first year I spent Halloween with my kids instead of worrying about a fermenting tank. The grapes were harvested because they were ripe. Inclement weather never forced our hand. We had a small amount of rain on Halloween, and then nothing until late November. The grapes could have stayed out longer, but their internal clock struck twelve in late October….

 

  • Dry Ground- The last three years it has felt quite different when stepping into the vineyard. The ground is dry, grasping for any moisture available. There is no “bounce”, no sponge type feeling that comes when you get good rain. I think the effect of this lack of rain is a much bigger problem than most realize. We have plenty of water in our wells, and yes we can irrigate. But a grapevine’s root structure spreads underground. Think of it like an oak tree. An oak tree’s root structure is roughly the size of its crown. Grapevines’ roots spread underground in the same way. Irrigation emitters on a drip-tube drop water in one place on each side of the vine. The water percolates but never reaches a lot of the roots that are outside the linear line of the drip tube (as compared to rain which acts like a shower and soaks everywhere) . Those roots then have a harder time up-taking nutrients. Lack of nutrients results in less canopy growth (less leaves). Each leaf on a vine is a photo-voltaic energy source for ripening the vine’s grapes. Low rainfall equals fewer leaves, fewer leaves equals less energy, and less energy equals less fruit that can be ripened. I’m glad it’s raining outside right now….

 

  • Early is good- 99% of the time, early harvests are good harvests. And I’m not saying that because I like Halloween. Winemakers like to pick grapes at optimal maturity (and each winemaker has their own idea of what that is, and that’s a whole different Blog Post…. and a controversial one!). Optimal maturity can never be achieved if our harvest decisions are forced by mother nature. In cooler vintages there are two obstacles to reaching optimal maturity. First is the scary question –“are we going to get there?” As the season progresses the days get shorter, the weather gets cooler and those little photo-voltaic leaves produce less energy. Ripening slows, and everyday seems like an eternity. This was the case in 2011. Cooler parts of our Ranch, cooler parts of our region, and cooler parts of California struggled to achieve sugar and flavor development. The second obstacle is rain. We all know that the later we get into Fall, the greater the chance for rain.  In cooler vintages grapes ripen at a slower rate, potentially extending harvest into late October and early November. If rain is forecasted, winemakers are forced to make a decision—harvest before optimal maturity, resulting in potentially “green” flavors, or risk leaving the grapes on the vine. If the latter is chosen you could face the following consequences:

o    Dilution- Rain is an unnecessary irrigation. Water at this stage of maturity results in the grape absorbing the water like a sponge, and consequently in the dilution of acid and flavors.

o    Spoilage organisms- Moisture and sugar are prime nutrients for all types of yeast, bacteria and molds. All of these buggers live on the grape skins and thus in the fermenting tank and wine and can ultimately cause problems in the cellar during ageing.

o    Loss of crop- Weathermen aren’t always right. One storm can turn into more. Muddy ground prevents tractors from getting in the field  to harvest, and eventually the crop wilts away. Now you have a lot of explaining to do…..

Early harvests are usually the result of warm weather. Warm weather results in complications as well, such as vine shut-down, due to water stress, and dehydrating fruit. Water stress can be dealt with by the proper use of irrigation, and sorting tables at the winery can remove dehydrated fruit before it reaches the fermentors. Early harvest complications can be resolved, whereas late harvest complications make you lose sleep….

 

Overall 2014 was a huge success. The quality is exceptionally high.  We processed record tonnage for Halter Ranch and had a team that executed our winemaking plan to perfection. There is rain outside my window, we will have Rose to drink within a month, and my kids plastic pumpkins are filled with candy….and I got to help them fill them. That’s a good 2014!

 

Kevin Sass

Winemaker



0 items - $0.00
View Cart ›
Checkout ›
Cart message goes here...