2017 harvest straight outta Halter

Wowza! As I sit here and look back on the 2017 harvest Wowza is the first word that pops into my mind.  As we all know every vintage is unique and intricate and presents its own challenges and rewards. If we knew exactly what to expect each vintage, our lives would become repetitive and much less exciting. I believe it is the challenges, and rewards of course, that make our job so interesting, and in my mind the best job in the world.

2017 was the first year with significant rainfall after five years of drought. We were very fortunate to have over 43 inches of rain recorded at the Ranch! This is pretty amazing because the so-called “typical” rainfall for our area is supposed to be around 25 inches to 28 inches a year, although we hadn’t seen anything close to that since 2011. It was amazing to drive through the Adelaide (colloquial term for the Adelaida District, the AVA where Halter Ranch is located), and see every reservoir brimming with water. There were ponds that popped up in areas I never even knew existed. If you visited the Ranch this year you probably noticed that even Tablas Creek was flowing for months underneath our covered bridge.

With the wet winter, we were all expecting to have an above-average harvest, as the vines had plenty of canopy growth and they appeared to be carrying a pretty good crop load. What we had expected to be an above-average year turned into a spectacular one; we ended up processing over 50% more fruit than last year! As I mentioned earlier, every vintage is different and the 2017 vintage had many unique characteristics, besides just yields, that will cement itself in our memories for years to come.

Harvest began on August 31 with around 3.5 tons of Viognier, and ended on October 31/November 1 with almost 50 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon. That is 62 endless nights that our vineyard team spent harvesting in the middle of the night (we pick all of our grapes by hand, in the middle of the night using LED light towers and headlamps; our crews typically pick from 8 p.m. till 6 a.m. (please let us know if you would like to apply for this job!), and 62 endless days that our cellar team spent listening to the noisy crush pad as the equipment and our team seamlessly destemmed and sorted all the fruit to prepare for fermentation. In fact, this year the harvest lasted almost a full extra month in the cellar, as we did not press off our last tank till the final week of November.

We are used to long harvests at Halter Ranch due to the fact that we grow thirteen varietals and we have a vast vineyard that has grapes planted on a broad range of hillsides and valley floor. The thing that we were not expecting this year was the stop and start nature of harvest, and the timing of when certain varietals were harvested (we harvested our last white, Grenache Blanc, on October 27).

We began harvest pretty steadily due to nine consecutive days of 100 plus degree weather between the end of August and first week of September. The odd thing was that after the heat spike temperatures dropped and the vineyard seemed to stall a bit. All of a sudden, we were working short 10 hour days, and some of our staff even had weekends off. We had one intern this year working his first harvest and he mentioned how much easier working harvest was than he had expected…. we all told him “you just wait…” and in true fashion, by the beginning of October everything picked WAY back up again.’

Our lovely 10 hour days quickly turned into caffeine fueled 12 to 14 hour days where our only concern besides the grapes and cellar work was how to feed ourselves. If you know anyone that works production for a winery or vineyard you know that your relationship with that person pretty much is on hold for a few months. We spend more hours covered in juice and wine than we do with our loved ones. Sleep, social activities, and clean hands become luxuries that we cannot always afford ourselves. But, I must say, we do it all because we LOVE it. Having a great team, positive working environment and a shared end goal of making the best wine possible, makes it all worthwhile. When you come to work every Tuesday and the whole team is wearing our 2017 Harvest shirts for T-shirt Tuesday exclaiming “Straight Outta Halter” as we jam to some NWA, it’s hard not to smile.

We recently tasted through the dry lots from this harvest (about half of our red lots have finished the secondary fermentation called Malolactic fermentation where the malic acid is converted to lactic acid), and I must tell you I am so excited to taste through the rest and create some amazing blends. The wines are bright and focused with great concentration and beautiful acidity. Keep your eyes open for wines from this vintage as they are sure to impress.

Molly Lonborg, Associate Winemaker

Photography: Yvonne Goll Photography

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