As Patrick wrote last week, we’re at the tail end of harvest, with just a few “dribs and drabs” coming into the winery over the next several days. All of our Santa Lucia Highlands fruit is in; we’re just waiting for a few more grapes from Arroyo Seco and Paso Robles. October is usually one of the sunniest months in our area, with a warmth that allows our late-ripening fruit to finish. But the first two weeks of this month were some of the coolest I’ve seen in my years on the Central Coast, with a heavy marine layer of fog that lingered well into the afternoons. The last couple of days have brought more sunshine, however, and our few remaining grapes are soaking it up.
Last year we initiated a “guest vineyard” program under Lucienne, where we produce a single-vineyard wine from a renowned grower/vineyard site. In 2021 we made a Pinot Noir from the acclaimed Solomon Hills Vineyard in Santa Maria AVA, which we’ll bottle in 2023. This year I was able to access Pinot Noir from the iconic Bien Nacido Vineyard, also in Santa Maria. And here’s the funny thing: when I was just starting out in winemaking, the first wine I made came from this exact same block – the same vines – in Bien Nacido. That was in 1997, 25 years ago! I’ll never forget the aromatics of that Pinot Noir, and I have high hopes for this one from 2022. Talk about coming full circle.
With this being our last blog post of harvest 2022, a little review is in order. It was an unusual season, marked by the week-long heat spell in early September. But our vines held up and I’m proud of the way our team moved quickly to get our early-ripening fruit into the winery. With most of our lots through initial fermentation, I’ve been able to taste through the wines and I’m really happy with the quality, particularly how the acids have held up. I always say that when wines taste this good early on, you know it’s going to be a good vintage.
Before I sign off, I want to acknowledge our hard-working vineyard and winery teams. Sometimes people think that the winemaker is the one who does everything, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes a team to make wine, and I’ve found that if the people have as much passion for making great wine as you do, the wines will be the best they can be. I’m lucky to have people like that at Hahn, including veterans who’ve been here as long or longer than me, and newer hires that are learning the ropes. The key is having good people, and I’m thankful that we have the best.
One final note: I hope to see you at our Harvest Celebration this Saturday, October 22 from 11am to 3pm here at the Hahn Estate. In addition to our vineyard and winemaking teams we’ll be joined by Caroline Hahn and her husband, Richard. Our Doctor’s Vineyard is named for Caroline, who is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a great ambassador for the winery. I know I speak for Caroline and Richard when I say they can’t wait to welcome you to Hahn!
Thanks for reading!
Director of Winemaking
With just one small block of Malbec left in Hook Vineyard to be picked, I’m ready to call harvest 2022 a wrap. The vines have done their work for the year, and so has our vineyard team.
Of course, with farming things are never really “done done.” To get the vines ready for dormancy we’re watering and also applying fertilizer, essentially giving them food and drink before they bed down for the colder months. Some of the leaves have started to yellow, but I still see a fair amount of green in the vineyards. With no significant cold weather in the immediate forecast, I don’t expect to see leaves drop until mid to late-November, which is normal.
We’re also getting ready to plant cover crops in vineyard blocks with newer plantings, including some in Doctor’s and Lone Oak. Established blocks have native grasses that come back every year, so those we leave alone. But younger plantings need cover crops to provide nutrients and prevent erosion. We try to get those in just before the first rain so they have the benefit of moisture for germination.
And because January is not that far away, we’re already making plans for pruning. Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at the yields we had in each block in 2022. This helps me determine how we’ll approach pruning this winter; in blocks where our yields were quite low, we’ll think about leaving a little more wood on the vines. In no time at all, the cycle will begin all over again.
Director of Viticulture
We’re heading into the home stretch of the 2022 harvest as we push to bring in the last grapes over the next week or so. As Juan Jo wrote last week, we’ve harvested the final blocks of Chardonnay (Wente clone) from the Lone Oak Vineyard and the juice is fermenting nicely – and aromatically! - in new French oak barrels. We did our second pick of Sauvignon Blanc for Smith & Hook last week as well. These are the grapes we pick at higher sugars and lower acids, to be combined, eventually, with our earlier pick of Sauvignon Blanc with lower sugars and higher acids. Both lots are coming along nicely and I can’t wait to start the blending trials which bring these wines together.
Today will be a big day as we pick Syrah and the first Grenache from Hook Vineyard, a sure sign that harvest is nearing completion. We’ll also pick the Riesling from Hook; we planted three acres of the variety several years ago and this is our second harvest. Because we have such a small quantity, we’ll bottle it exclusively for club members and guests.
October has brought with it typical fall weather in Monterey County, with long, cool, foggy mornings, sunny afternoons and cool evenings and nights. There’s just enough heat to ripen the few remaining grapes we have out there, and we’ll be happy when they’re safely in the winery. Another sure sign that harvest is nearly over is that our 2022 Harvest Celebration is within sight. I hope we’ll see lots of club members at the event, which takes place Saturday October 22nd from 11 AM – 3 PM at the Hahn Estate Vineyard House Lawn. There will be food, live music, barrel tastings and of course plenty of wines to try as we mingle and celebrate another successful vintage together. Join us!
We are deep into Chardonnay production now, with grapes coming in from our Lone Oak Vineyard for the SLH and Lucienne wines and from Arroyo Seco for the Hahn Appellation Series. We barrel ferment most of this fruit, as this technique gives the finished wines complex aromas and flavors as well as a rounder, more generous texture. It is a labor-intensive process, however.
When the grapes come into the winery we press the juice off the skins ever so gently, then allow the juice to settle in tank with the temperature turned low. Next, we rack the juice off the heavy lees (sediment) that settles at the bottom of the tank, inoculate it with yeast, and pump it into small French barrels to begin fermentation. Fermenting the juice dry can take anywhere from 10 to 21 days, and since there’s always evaporation, we top up the barrels every so often to keep them full, with no space for oxygen.
Once dry, we monitor the wines for malolactic fermentation and begin the process of “batonnage”, where we stir the settled lees back into the wine, barrel by barrel, once every two weeks. This technique, along with the malolactic, gives our Chardonnays viscosity and a wonderful creaminess, again adding to their overall interest and complexity.
Although much of our Chardonnay is barrel fermented, we also ferment some of the grapes in stainless steel tanks. These wines tend to have a tighter structure and brighter fruit, and we like having them as an option when we’re putting together our final blends.
The official beginning of fall was last week and I can certainly feel it in the air. The nights are colder, the mornings chillier. The leaves on the vines are starting to yellow, signaling their readiness to go dormant. Their work is nearly complete for the year, although in the winery, we have several more weeks to go!
Juan Jo Verdina-Busch
Senior Production Manager | Hahn Winemaker
Following 2 ½ weeks of nonstop action we had a short break in harvest this past weekend as the weather cooled. We even saw a little rain on Sunday, though it didn’t amount to much – just enough to shake the dust off the vines. The pause in picking gave us a chance to catch our breaths and catch up in the winery, where we’re busy monitoring fermentations, pressing off the skins and barreling down the new wines.
Still, it’s amazing to me how fast harvest is going. I don’t think we’ve ever moved as quickly through the Smith, Hook and Doctor’s vineyards as we did this year. This week we’re bringing in the last Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Lone Oak, our northernmost vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Lone Oak is a slightly cooler vineyard, with fog that sticks around longer during the day, so it’s normal for us to pick it later than our other SLH vineyards. Even with the heat we experienced a couple weeks ago the grapes at Lone Oak needed more time to ripen.
Next, we’ll move into Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Arroyo Seco for the Appellation Series. And the Cabernet Sauvignon from further south continues to come in at a steady pace. I anticipate the last grapes to be picked will be Grenache and Syrah, which is normal for us. At the rate we’re going I expect to be done with harvest in early October, about 2-3 weeks earlier than usual.
With a fair amount of fruit in the winery, I’m getting a handle on how the vintage is shaping up and I’m very optimistic. I’m seeing great color, good extraction and acid levels in just the right range, even with sugars being a little higher than usual. I’ve got a good feeling about the wines from 2022.
Director of Winemaking
I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but we’re nearly halfway through harvest. As Megan reported last week, a multi-day heat wave hastened ripening throughout the Central Coast, and we’ve been bringing in grapes from vineyards throughout Monterey County and Paso Robles. It’s cooled off now, but we anticipate continuing to harvest at a rapid pace in the coming days.
It’s years like this that I’m particularly thankful for our Pellenc grape harvesters. We pick much of our fruit by hand, but these machine harvesters allow us to bring in many more tons of grapes per day than we could otherwise. With the heat causing so many of our vineyard blocks to ripen simultaneously, the Pellencs have been a lifesaver this year, allowing us to get fruit into the winery in a timely fashion. Plus, a Pellenc harvester is a pretty amazing piece of equipment. Each of ours has an on-board sorting table with rollers that separate the berries and juice from the leaves and stems (known as MOG - material other than grapes). The grapes arrive at the winery in pristine condition, ready for processing. An added bonus: the MOG is left in the vineyard, putting healthy organic matter back into the soils.
We often make improvements to our infrastructure but the one I’m most excited about this year is the newly paved road to the winery. No more potholes! As someone who drives it almost daily, I love this new surface, and we think visitors will appreciate it too. It’s so smooth I’ve decided to call it our Laguna Seca racetrack!
Director of Viticulture
Last Friday, we celebrated the first load of grapes to come in, Pinot Noir from Smith Vineyard, with our “Blessing of the Grapes” tradition. Harvest has officially begun!
If there’s one word that sums up this week of the 2022 harvest, the word would be heat. California’s heat wave has made national news, as we’ve seen day upon day of triple digit temperatures throughout the state. We’re used to seeing heat like this for a day or two in late summer, but it’s unusual for it to last so long. The weather has pushed harvest into high gear, with fruit coming from our Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards as well as Paso Robles, Arroyo Seco, San Antonio Valley and Hames Valley.
The grapes look good though! We’ve been able to pick at peak ripeness, and we got ahead of the game by irrigating judiciously to ensure the vines have enough water to prevent dehydration. I’ve been in the vineyards continuously scouting blocks for the next pick. One of the ways I can tell if the grapes are ready – in addition to tasting them, of course – is to examine the seeds and pulp. I’ll squeeze a grape and if the seeds and pulp stick together, with the pulp being kind of jelly-like, I know they need more time. If the seeds are brown and separate from the pulp, I know it’s time to harvest.
I’m excited about the first grapes we’re about to bring in for our Smith & Hook Sauvignon Blanc. This is the second year we’ve picked grapes for this wine in two distinct time periods. The earlier grapes have less sugar and bring characteristic herbal flavors to the wine as well as nice, natural acidity. Grapes picked later have higher sugars and lower acid, and they tend to bring more tropical notes, guava, passionfruit and also pear. We love combining the two styles of wine to make a complete Sauvignon Blanc. It has quickly become one of my favorites!
Our first grapes will arrive at the end of this week, and with temperatures predicted to rise in the next several days, we’ll be moving fast to hand harvest Pinot Noir from our Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards. As is typical, the first blocks to come in feature the Calera clone, one of my favorites because it reliably produces beautiful small clusters and tiny berries. Though the clone’s yields are typically low, the quality more than makes up for it, generating wines with amazing color, fruit, structure and tannin.
Next week we should be in full fermentation mode. In the winery, we’ll place the grapes into open top fermenters that allow us to do “pumpovers” (a technique akin to stirring a pot of soup) to gently extract color, flavor and tannin as the sugars and yeasts do their work. Because of the coming heat spell, we know the grapes will start to come in waves. We’re ready, knowing we have a good eight to ten weeks of hard work ahead of us.
Still, I don’t know a winemaker who doesn’t love this time of year. It’s the most important stage of the winemaking process, and also the time you can learn the most. There’s just nothing like being able to smell, taste and experience the transformation of grapes to juice to wine, and each vintage brings its own lessons. This will be my 21th harvest in the U.S., and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that every year is different. You just never know what harvest will throw at you, and I love that!
Juan Jo Verdina-Busch
Senior Production Manager | Hahn Winemaker
Welcome to the initial installment of our annual harvest blog! In a few days we’ll bring in the first Pinot Noir grapes from our Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards, marking my 20th harvest at Hahn Family Wines. The outlook for another outstanding vintage is good, though of course it’s too early to make firm predictions. Still, the most notable aspect of the 2022 growing season to date is the absence of any major weather events. Budbreak was a little early this year, especially for Chardonnay, but bloom came and went without a hitch and the timing of harvest looks to be normal, maybe a week earlier than last year.
As I mentioned we’ll start picking Pinot Noir first. Our vineyards feature a substantial variety of clones, and since they tend to go through bloom at different stages (which is advantageous if it rains during bloom), they’re also ready to harvest at different times. We always keep the clones separate as the wines go through fermentation and aging to see how each one performs. Among other things, this helps us determine which clones to plant – and where – in the future.
I’m excited to try out a new tool this year, a piece of technology developed in New Zealand. It’s a probe you drop into the fermenter that provides real time data on the temperature and Brix level of the fermenting grapes. I can simply open an app on my phone and get information about each tank’s progress, even if I’m out in the vineyard. I’ll let you know how we like it in a future post.
As we ready the winery for harvest, we’re also cranking out the final blends of our 2021 wines, including the SLH Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and our Hahn Appellation Series wines from Arroyo Seco. I say “cranking,” because we need to make room in the cellar for the 2022 vintage!
Director of Winemaking
It’s a wrap! Harvest 2021 is one for the history books. We finished picking the Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir and Chardonnay last week, and this week we’re turning to the last bit of Syrah from Hook Vineyard, some bound for the 2021 Lucienne Syrah. We’re also harvesting the last Grenache from Arroyo Seco, and we’ll finish with Merlot, always the last variety to come in. Our timing is ideal. The scant amount of rain we had last week didn’t affect the small amount of fruit still hanging, but it was time to bring it in. The grapes are ripe, and since our Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are safely in barrel, there’s plenty of tank space. Plus, the outlook for the next several days is for cooler weather…Mother Nature is telling us it’s time to wrap it up!
Looking back, I have to say that 2021 is one of the finest vintages I’ve seen since I’ve been at Hahn. The growing season was smooth and uneventful, the weather was relatively cool throughout harvest, and the picking was evenly paced. The Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that have gone dry taste incredible already, and our other wines show lovely fruit and good concentration.
I want to give a big shout out to our vineyard and winemaking crews who’ve worked so hard over the past ten weeks – and many weeks before that – to bring in another fine grape harvest. It’s a long haul of six-day weeks, and they did an excellent job of working together while also working around the restrictions we’ve put in place due to COVID. I’m happy to report that we’re all safe and healthy, and looking forward to the upcoming holiday season.
And thanks to all of you who followed along on our harvest journey this year. We can’t wait to share the Hahn Family Estate wines of 2021 with you!
Director of Winemaking