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


Blending Trials with the HRV Staff

Halter Ranch Vineyard

2012 Blending Trials

 

As our red wines make their way through the 9 to 18 month process of ageing in barrel, Kevin periodically pulls sample blends and has the staff taste them to assist in isolating the combinations that best exhibit the qualities of fruit, acid, tannin, and overall balance we seek in wines from Halter Ranch.  This past Saturday, the tasting room staff was treated to trials of potential blends for the 2012 yet to be named Reserve Syrah and 2012 Ancestor.  Each of 3 separate trial lots were tasted against their 2011 counterparts (11 Block 22 Syrah and 11 Ancestor) for a total of 8 tastings.  Final decisions for the blends are six months out but I have included here a few random samples of employee notes from the two trials.  The identities of staff members have been stricken from this particular record intentionally.  However, if you know us and think you can guess whose notes are whose, do please have at it in the comments below.

Ancestor Blend A – Blueberries and woodchips…lush…very grippy tannins

Syrah Blend C – Toasty vanilla-y oak.  Smooth round mouth.  Lingering finish.

Ancestor Blend B – More oak [than the other two samples in this trial] less distinct fruit; oak on the finish

Syrah Blend C – A little bit spicy and acidic on the finish; prickles the tongue; raspberry on the nose

Ancestor Blend C – The most fruity aroma;  lingers on the palate; velvety

Syrah Blend A – Great nose; lighter fruit; tannin; light finish

Ancestor Blend C – This lot didn’t leave my mouth feeling as chalky as the others

Syrah Blend C – Seemed pleasantly full but left behind too much of a drying sensation

Ancestor Blend C – Full on the palate with distinctly dark fruit.  The nose opens nicely with time

Syrah Blend C – Dark fruit with distinct tannin in comparison to A and B.  This would be my pick.

Syrah Blend C – Nascar on the nose, thick on the palate, grit on the teeth, bitey on the finish

Ancestor Blend B – Pretty girl [stated with enthusiastic tone].  Fruit is deep and floral on the nose. Rubenesque. [this means plump or rounded in a pleasing or attractive way according to Merriam-Webster Online] Rich and curvy.  A finish that keeps on giving.  Hey girl, hey

Kevin will make some adjustments based on staff consensus and his own preferences before we revisit these blends closer to bottling in July.  Check back next week for 2013 Pink updates and have a smashing time in the mean!

 

Blending Trials - Halter Ranch Vineyard

Sun On The Patio

 

 


Tasting through Tuscany, Bandol, Côte-Rôtie, and Paso Robles

Tasting - Halter Ranch Vineyard

A line up of 1.5 Liter friends

 

This past week we had the opportunity to take a tasting journey through 6 delicious and distinct wines from around the world.  The first third of the tasting included 2 wines from France.  A 2010 Domaine Tempier from Bandol and a 2005 Levet “Chavaroche” Cote Rotie.  The middle third was a comparison between our 2011 Côtes de Paso and Denner’s 2011 Ditch Digger.  The final third included a 2004 Justin Isosceles and a 2010 Fontodi Flaccianello Sangiovese.

The Tempier, a Mourvedre based blend that exhibited a hint of Brettanomyaces on the nose and palate, offered lush spicy fruit just beneath the surface and these latter qualities became more apparent as the wine opened up.  The Côte-Rôtie is Syrah based and was distinctly spicy and earthy out of the bottle.  Some brambly red fruit began to arrive as more air arrived to open things up.  Tasting our Côtes side by side with Denner’s Ditch Digger was very interesting given the similarities between the two blends.  Both are composed predominantly of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, but the Côtes has a little Tannat in it and the Ditch Digger contains some Counoise and Cinsault.  Both blends were notably fruit forward but the Côtes seemed to lean more toward spicy red fruit while the Digger tended more toward the dark plummy end of the spectrum.  Judging from our own wines, the 2004 vintage was very warm and the ripeness of the 2004 Isosceles seemed to support this.  The wine was distinctly dark and viscous when compared with its compatriots up to this point.  Our final taste was the 2010 Sangiovese which was probably the staff favorite among the  larger format bottles at first taste (the Halter Ranch and Denner tastes were from more standard 750 ml sized bottles).  It was relatively fruit oriented compared to the Bandol and Côte-Rôtie while displaying enough acid and tannin to pair well with food and potentially cellar for 5-10 years more.

Expect similar posts as our staff tasting journeys continue.  As always, thanks for reading and cheers!

 

Tasting Room Glasses

The Tasting Room Team

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