August 31, 2020 16:14
Roseanne Roseannadanna was one of my favorite Gilda Radner characters from Saturday Night Live. I thought this quote fits these times. Wearing masks and keeping 6 feet apart while picking grapes during the threat of evacuation-'it’s always something'.
The good news is our first week is complete, the 93rd vintage for us. The evacuation orders were lifted and our hardworking crew was able to bring in our Sauvignon Blanc fruit and start Vintage 2020. The weather cooperated by bringing cooling fog and relief to our little corner of the world-helping everyone from the vineyard crew picking grapes to the first responders working to contain the Walbridge Fire that is several miles to the west.
Thank you to everyone who reached out to us knowing the fire was nearby. Your notes and phone calls mean so much. While it is west of us the authorities were cautious in calling for an evacuation which was then downgraded to a warning and lifted on Tuesday when the weather cooled down. Because of the break in the heat the dedicated first responders were able to begin containment. It is times like these that I am thankful for all the information received from our neighbors, from Supervisor James Gore (who is our man on the ground every time we have an emergency) as well as our community at large in northern Sonoma County.
The word of the day is perspective. Seeing things through the last few decades brings things into focus. I thought I would put together some notes and comments about past vintages with the memorable, the nail-biters and the calm, cool and collected harvest years.
Pick dates: The earliest we ever picked grapes was in 2014 on August 12 following a drought year as well as a warm growing season-we finished the earliest ever that year as well and were done by the third week of September. Early harvests were also experienced in 1981,1988, and 1996. Latest pick dates are part of the history as well with 1999 and 1975 standing out among them because of the cool harvest weather.
Speaking of rain: Precipitation came into the picture in 1989-while this wasn’t the first time during harvest it was memorable because of the hype around it-there were less wineries and wine press in the 1960s and 1970s and rain almost always made an appearance before the last grapes were in to the crushpad. This vintage it came during mid-September and we were experiencing one of the larger crops growers had seen lately. Many believed it ruined the vintage. We made our first and only late harvest Johannisberg Riesling from our estate vineyard-making lemonade from lemons! Another memorable year was 2010 which had early October rain that halted harvest until the vineyard dried out-with Cabernet Sauvignon still waiting to be harvested. It was called ‘a European’ vintage because it gave red wines cool climate characteristics.
Heat: 2010 had the honor of being a double whammy vintage. A heat spike at the end of August caught us unaware and we lost 40% of our Zinfandel. The year had already been a cool and slow growing season and we, like many of the other growers in the valley, had pulled leaves in order to help ripen the grapes as much as possible. I remember this was also the first time we paid the vineyard crew by the hour rather than by the bucket-they had to pick around the bunches that had turned to raisins. Heat spikes in 2017 came along and moved things at a rapid pace as well as 2004 as mentioned above.
It is the vintages without any problems that almost go unnoticed. These are the textbook perfect growing seasons followed by a harvest with no rain, heat spikes or other challenges like drought. Nothing to write about, kind of boring. 2018 & 2019 are among those going down as the easiest of vintages. Both years developed nicely and words like ‘even handed’ ‘steady’ and ‘uneventful’ were bandied about. Montse declared 2018 her favorite of the 11 vintages she had seen at the winery. 1978, 1985, 2007 all created great wines without many challenges.
We are farmers after all, as I mentioned in a prior post, and harvest tells the tale of the season. Our wines tell the story of the vintage-some are eloquent, some are quiet, some are brassy, and some are just right.
Credit where credit is due:
The vintage information is all with help from man named Bruce Cass, who passed away in 2016 but ran the Wine Lab and taught wine classes at Stanford among other roles. The information I collected in 2012 from his now defunct website with information on California vintages from 1970 to 2011 is a treasure trove of facts and great opinions on the vintages from a man who shared his vast knowledge.
August 31, 2020 16:08
This is our 93rd harvest at Pedroncelli Winery. The last five months are marked with head-shaking challenges including COVID, sheltering in place, and now fires. We have seen a lot in these last nine decades. No one, including my 88-year-old father Jim, has seen anything like this. The kicker? The vines are doing their thing just like any other vintage and surviving the slings and arrows of Mother Nature. We are farmers after all, and harvest isn’t going to wait.
The vineyards marched toward the day of harvest from the very start of this pandemic. Some of those slings and arrows in the past included rain or heat, too much fruit ready to be picked and not enough space, an early harvest or one that seemed to stretch on forever. We came out of July ready to harvest after Labor Day weekend-marking this as a cooler growing season. The change came when the weather warmed up and sped ripening. Regarding vineyards and warm weather, I learned some great information from our vineyard manager Lance Blakeley a couple of years ago. “Vines are like people” he said, “and they actually shield the fruit by slightly moving the leaves into a protective position, providing much needed shade from the sweltering heat.” Kind of like using an umbrella to shade us on the beach-we’ll survive with some shade and relief from the sun.
So the results are in--we are picking on Monday August 24! Things are moving ahead quickly as the development in the vineyard leaves no doubt the grapes are ready to pick. Samples have been taken, analysis performed and the first grapes to pick are, drumroll please, our Sauvignon Blanc. Looking at past harvest dates this is right on par with the two previous years, not too early and not too late. We had large production in the 2018/2019 vintages, so this year is looking a little lighter in comparison but overall, about average. Of course, there are other extenuating circumstances: the virus, labor shortage, the COVID rules of keeping everyone safe and healthy which will also take away some of the time spent picking grapes so progress will be a bit slower. Harvest will go on however even under these adjustments.
Then there are the fires. Thunder and lightning came to our area (which reminded people of the weather you usually see in other parts of the U.S). Started by lightning strikes earlier this week the fires are active all over northern California as far south as Monterey County to northern Sonoma County. The Wallbridge/Skaggs Fire is about 4 miles away from the winery behind the ridge line above the valley floor. Dry Creek Valley covers a huge area with just a part of it planted to 9000 acres of vineyards. The bulk of the land to the west is forested and largely uninhabited. Through the powerful images seen on television, in newspapers and social media many of you have seen the results of the fires here in the state and valley. Like the other fire years of 2017 and 2019 we are not in the midst of them but are associated with them and so far are safe. We are keeping all of our neighbors, friends, family and staff in mind hoping all remain out of harm's way as well.
We are farmers and join the legions of other farmers across this land as we watch and wait for the weather, the challenges, the preparation and finally the harvest. Like the generations before, we must have patience, fortitude and hope. I have no doubt whatsoever that the harvest of 2020 will go down in history as one of the most challenging and exceptional vintage stories ever.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Vintage 2020
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Bushnell Vineyard
- Wine Flights
- Tasting Room
- Walbridge Fire
- note from home
- Mother Clone
- Follow the Vineyard
- Dry Creek Valley
- Block 007 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
- Lake Sonoma
- Four Grapes Port
- Holding steady
- Heat wave
- Sonoma County
- Wine & Food
- cooking with wine
- Courage Zinfandel
- Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon
- Crop set