September 28, 2020 16:06
Vintage 2020 was one of the fastest harvests in our 93 years at Pedroncelli. It began on August 24 with Sauvignon Blanc and ended with our Cabernet Sauvignon on September 23. And this vintage year began with the pandemic and ended amidst it with all the accompanying safety guidelines in placed. A fire to the west of us complicated things with a brief evacuation followed by smoke high above the valley from the large Walbridge fire. Add a couple of high heat weeks and the grapes ripened along quickly. Reminiscent of the 2017 vintage which was equally as fast.
We follow the vineyard with Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member, who works with his dad Lance and is our Vineyard Manager and a key part of the winemaking team which also included Montse Reece and Polo Cano. He gave me an update on the grapes, the vineyards and the vintage:
"Just as we are picking the last load of Cabernet Sauvignon we are also back out in the vineyard preparing for winter by planting cover crop and fertilizing the vines. We are heading into a heat wave next week and we are buttoning things up so the vines can get some much needed rest.
The harvest overall was very quick and busy in that we picked every day between August 24 and September 23 except for two of the days. We don’t pick on Sundays as well and this gives everyone a break to get ready for another busy week-rest, make plans, gear up.
I find this year similar to 2017 in that we had high heat over Labor Day weekend then and this year as well. The crop is also lighter and similar to three years ago. I learned more this year than I knew when I worked the 2017 harvest, that’s for sure. To give an example at how quickly the fruit ripened I’ll use our Zinfandel as an example. At the beginning of Labor Day weekend the fruit samples came back at 24 brix-we watched the brix (sugar) rise a degree per day and by Monday we had 27 degrees Brix-and we picked it as fast as we could to preserve the style we like in our Zins.
Aside from all the challenges we were on par for a great vintage. We’ll now play the patience game and wait for the overworked labs to get us results to see if there is any smoke damage in the new wines.
A couple of other notes; we machine harvest about 15% of our vineyard: Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon blocks that are cane pruned and able to withstand the machine taking fruit off. You need to have some age on the wood so it doesn’t break off and damage the vine. Another anomaly this year was the amount of labor we had-his dad Lance noted it was like 30 years ago when labor was plentiful. The reason this year is because other wineries delayed picking or cancelled picking of vineyards and we had people eager to work."
Thanks Mitch for the update as we follow the vineyard through 2020.
September 2, 2020 16:18
Our Sauvignon Blanc harvest kicked things off for us on August 24-seen above are the grapes as they arrived at the crushpad. Vintage 2020 begins!
This post is a bit of a mix between talking to Mitch about following the vineyards on their road to harvest along with an update on our first week of harvest all the while with the Walbridge fire as background. The vineyards are ripe and ready to pick, the harvest waits for no one.
August brought some challenges for sure. The dog days of summer heat ripened vineyards a bit faster than previously estimated. The early varieties like our Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley were ready to pick, moved along after a relatively cool and uneventful July. The first day of harvest brought fruit in on time for a normal beginning of the vintage. To give you a reference point, the average first day of harvest over the last 10 years fell between the third and fourth week of August. I managed to catch up with Mitch, as I mentioned, to check in on August 21st, right before the big day. He was taking bunch samples of the Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel for our Rosé. It was a beautiful warm day in Dry Creek Valley while I talked to Mitch, he in the vineyard and me from a smokey parking lot in Soledad California-where I stopped to take notes along my way home from taking care of my grandson Galen.
Mitch shared the following: "The vineyards are holding up just fine through the heat. The vines didn't shut down because the vineyard crew made sure the vineyards were given a drink of water now and then through controlled drip irrigation. There was some evidence of shriveling in the Zinfandel bunches but overall not too much was lost. We'll move from picking Sauvignon Blanc early in the week to the Rosé and Pinot Noir. We'll finish the week by beginning to pick our Zinfandel and Merlot blocks. All the work we have been doing through the summer like dropping fruit where needed, getting water to where it was needed, readying equipment and doing the final bottling in order to make room in the cellar for the new vintage all came together right on time."
He continued, addressing the smoke from the Walbridge fire. Editor's note: This fire began on August 17 due west of the winery and vineyards by several miles. As of September 1st it was under 74% containment and no longer was a threat to Dry Creek Valley. Mitch talked about the change in the weather with the arrival of the cooling marine layer which helped the fire fighters to contain the fire as well as bringing development to the grapes-acids and sugars balance out much better with warm days and cool nights. The smoke itself was to the west actually blowing south into the Bay Area and remained west and high above the valley floor. We'll see how things go as the vineyards are tested and we take things on a case by case basis. One other challenge to this year's harvest is COVID-and we have instituted and followed the guidelines set forth by the state and county when it comes to the safety of our vineyard crew. While it will slow things down we'll still get the grapes to the crushpad."
There you have it, Vintage 2020 has begun. The excitement of our 93rd vintage has been tempered somewhat but we are hopeful as we look forward to the last load of grapes to come in and call it a year-what a year it has been.
July 24, 2020 15:50
Another month into vintage 2020 and the next stage of the grape development is here: veraison. From here on out we can predict harvest dates by when the fruit begins the transition from hard green pea sized berries to a lighter softer green in the white varieties and shades of purple in the reds. I caught up with Mitch Blakely, fourth generation family member, as he was heading home for the day.
“We are watching the vines as the crop on each turns color-all but 11 acres of what we farm are red wine varieties and Merlot seems to be out ahead of the pack at 50% of the fruit turning color. Zinfandel isn’t too far behind at about 35%. Other varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon range from 5-15%. What that tells us is we’re looking at an average to slightly later harvest with mid-September for white grapes and lighter red wine grapes followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah the first couple of weeks of October. This timing is typical of the past harvests from normal growing seasons. And of course this will change if the weather spikes higher as we get nearer to picking.”
“It’s been hot at the beginning of July so one of the other jobs I had was trying to find blocks needing water. The vines were getting slightly stressed, slowly development down because of heat although some of the days topped out at 100 degrees but tapered off as the late afternoon fog began to come in. While fairly early on in the season it is better to have the higher heat at this time. Varietals susceptible to damage during heat are Zinfandel, Merlot and Sangiovese on hillside or limited soils where they have a tough time bouncing back. Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, can handle it. It was unseasonably cool at the last half of July which helped the vines out a lot."
He continued, "The crop size is fairly consistent, not as big of a year as last year. Not as many clusters and counts are down-which is a good thing because it is easier on the vines. We'll see COVID harvest protocols slow down harvesting with smaller crews and split crews for picking in order to keep our vineyard crew safe. Hoping for a nice even harvest with lots of time in between. Other projects include working on the vine blocks under the Scott Henry system where they are separating out the canes and pinching them down so the arms aren't snapped off during machine harvesting (Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc). There are 20-25 acres of the split system so it takes a while-7 acres done so far and there is time to get this done. Pulling leaves and dropping fruit (also known as green harvest) also has taken place in order to allow ripening of the clusters as well as lightening the load on the vine."
Thanks Mitch for the time and information-cheers to Vintage 2020 as it comes more into focus with each month. Follow our vineyard next month when we are in striking distance of harvest.
June 30, 2020 09:50
I received a text from our son Joe last month-he was excited because he had found our Mother Clone Zinfandel at the Whole Foods and had sent along a photo-he lives in Reno Nevada. He also included an idea for a blog post: #pairitwithPed. I loved it and this is the second in a series of pairing wine, food and experiences.
The first hot day of June rolled around on the second day-95 degrees and it was time to take out the boat and go to Lake Sonoma. This year we had to wait for the public boat ramp to open—COVID19 etc which took place toward the end of May. Our 'dinner cruises' are something Ed and I do every year during the spring, summer and fall. We plan at least one day during the week when we would prepare a picnic dinner, pick up the boat from storage and launch at the lake in northern Dry Creek Valley.
There were some firsts however-Jasper had never been to the lake or on a boat before. I am recreating recipes from our website and had chosen a Grilled Chicken Salad with Mint, Feta and Toasted Pita Bread. We had a guest along too-my sis-in-law Carol who was staying with us and is from Maui. And of course there is the first time to put the boat in and remember all the details that go along with it-fan on, pump the gas a couple of times, remember to put the motor down all the way and the like. The lake was beckoning and it was time to go relax in the cool!
We brought along a bottle of our Sauvignon Blanc which always pairs well with dinner on the boat, especially with this recipe. With a lemon-cumin marinade & dressing with kalamata olives and feta the wine and food pairing was perfect-plus did I mention we were on the boat? Carol commented that she typically didn’t like mint but in this salad it worked with the lemon zest in the dressing and the tomatoes. I used a locally made Feta which was delicate not salty and chalky-it made a difference. And grilling the chicken ahead of time helped this to become an easy midweek meal that was also easy to transport.
Jasper, seen here post-excursion over and out in the boat, had a blast zooming along the shore, trying to get sticks out of the water, barking and listening to his ‘counterpart’ bark back from across the cove, bothering a squirrel that was outraged at the idea of a dog running below his tree, chirping aggressively. It was our evening's entertainment besides the chorus of birds, the gaggle of geese swimming along and the occasional splash of a fish hitting the surface-the big on that got away.
Our evening ended as the sun set and it became noticeably cooler (and darker). Sometimes on our way back in-we are typically about 10 miles from the ramp-I need to dig out our sweatshirts to keep warm. But not this time-the bands of cool and hot air as we took the boat in at 45 miles per hour were sensational. An experience which filled all our senses from the wine to the food to the views.
Each month I'll have a new #PairitwithPed story. If you send me your stories (and many of you have) I’ll share them here in an upcoming post.
- Crop set
- Courage Zinfandel
- Bushnell Vineyard
- Lake Sonoma
- Wine Flights
- cooking with wine
- Sonoma County
- Block 007 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- note from home
- Walbridge Fire
- Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
- Tasting Room
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Dry Creek Valley
- Mother Clone
- Heat wave
- Vintage 2020
- Holding steady
- Follow the Vineyard
- Wine & Food
- Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon