I don’t want to jinx it, but I have to say the pace of harvest this year has been ideal. With near perfect fall weather, we’ve been able to cherry-pick which vineyards, blocks, and clones of Pinot Noir we harvest as the grapes reach absolute ripeness. And while the yields we’re getting are a bit lower than we’d like, they’re not as low as we anticipated. By the end of the week, we’ll have brought in the last of our Lucienne Pinot Noir from our Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards. Then it’s on to Chardonnay.
Unlike other growing regions in California, it’s normal for us to harvest SLH Chardonnay after SLH Pinot Noir. Our Pinot Noir vines don’t set a big crop, the clusters are smaller, and the fruit ripens more quickly than Chardonnay. Plus, Pinot Noir is more susceptible to heat spikes, which can dehydrate and shrivel the grapes. Chardonnay, with its larger berries, can handle more heat and hang time. That said, we have brought in a little bit of Chardonnay from our newer plantings in Hook Vineyard; the small amount of fruit on these young vines ripened at the same pace as the Pinot Noir.
But the bulk of our Chardonnay is still out there. In the Santa Lucia Highlands, we wait not only for the sugars to rise but the acids to fall. If we picked our Chardonnay too early, the acid in the wine would rip the enamel right off your teeth. We have to be patient because the cool nighttime temperatures here slow the respiration needed to bring the grape acids down. In a few days, I anticipate the acid levels in our Chardonnay will be ideal.
In the cellar, several lots of our SLH Pinot Noir are already dry and resting in barrels. Others are still fermenting, but I expect those fermentations to wrap up by the end of next week. The wines we’ve pressed so far look really good. Great color, beautiful aromatics, classic SLH Pinot Noir. Again, not to jinx it, but 2021 is shaping up to be a fine vintage.
Director of Winemaking
As my colleagues have been reporting, it’s been a slow start to harvest this year, particularly for Pinot Noir. It could be because we’ve had unusually cool mornings in the Santa Lucia Highlands, which slows ripening. I grew up near here, and the weather this fall reminds me of walking to school as a kid. The fog would be so thick in the morning it was kind of eerie, and kind of exciting.
While the Pinot Noir has been trickling in, the Cabernet Sauvignon further south is ready, or close to it. So far, our yields look smaller than estimated, sometimes by as much as 50%. Of course, estimating a crop’s size isn’t an easy or exact science – Paul (our winemaker) likes to say if you could figure out how to be 100% accurate, you’d be a millionaire. In any case, this week we’ll be taking Cabernet grapes from San Antonio Valley and Hames Valley, and we have some scheduled from the Estrella Vineyard in Paso Robles. It’s unusual to pick this much Cabernet before Pinot Noir, but at least we have plenty of tank space!
Last Friday we brought in the first grapes for our Smith & Hook Sauvignon Blanc, the second vintage of this wine. We source this fruit from the Arroyo Seco AVA, from a vineyard that sits on the valley floor. Our technique for crafting this wine is interesting. The grapes we picked last week will create a wine that has some of the fresh herbal qualities we admire in New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, as well as great natural acidity. In a couple weeks we’ll do our second pick, and these riper grapes will produce a wine with lower acids and lovely tropical/tree fruit flavors: guava, mango and peach. For both wines we’ll use two different types of yeast during the fermentation process to enhance the aromatics. Our plan is to blend these two styles together to achieve a complex, well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc, one that has rich, round fruit flavors with zesty acidity. We think you’ll really enjoy it.
Last week and this week have been all about Lucienne Pinot Noir, with harvest ramping up as we bring in fruit from each of our Santa Lucia Highlands estate vineyards. The cellar is starting to fill up, and our three-ton fermenters – which we affectionately call “tanquitos” because of their diminutive size – are filled to the brim with hand-picked, hand-sorted Pinot Noir.
These tanks have open tops and punch down devices that allow us to gently push the caps (the solid matter of grape skins and pulp that forms at the top of the tanks) down, submerging them to extract more flavor, color and structure. Punching down the cap of each tank is something we do several times a day as the juice is fermenting to wine, so it’s quite labor intensive. Once the juice has fermented dry, we press it off the grape skins, keeping the “free run juice” - juice released from the grapes as they are squeezed under their own weight – separate from the mechanically pressed wine.
The free run juice is considered the best, and always forms the base of our Lucienne Pinot Noirs. We put these lots into new French oak barrels. The press wine goes into neutral barrels that we keep on hand for blending later on. Press wine can be useful for plumping up the mid palate and enhancing the color and structure of the finished wine.
As we start to barrel down these first Lucienne Pinot Noirs from 2021 we’re getting a better sense of this vintage, and so far we are very pleased. The grapes have had a little more time on the vines, giving the wines good concentration, tannin and acids, even in their youth. The aromas in the cellar are magnificent.
Juan José Verdina
Harvest is off to a relatively slow start this year, though I expect that to change pretty soon. As Paul told you last week we’ve brought in a few blocks of Pinot Noir, some for Lucienne and some for our Noir Blanc, but we’re still waiting on the majority of our fruit in the Santa Lucia Highlands to achieve ripeness. The funny thing is that while we’re a little behind in our SLH vineyards, we appear to be a little ahead in Paso Robles. I predict we’re going to receive a lot of fruit all at once, but we can handle it.
Our falconer, Kathleen Tigan, is back, and it’s a good thing because the bird pressure is intense this year. Starlings love grapes and have a sixth sense about when they’re getting close to ripening. The falcon doesn’t hurt the birds, just scares them away. But Kathleen has noticed the starlings aren’t behaving the same way this year. Usually, they stay away for a couple of days after the falcon comes out, but recently they’ve been coming back after only a few hours. Are they hungrier this year? It’s hard to say, but since she can’t fly her falcon 24/7, Kathleen has been using additional methods to keep the birds at bay. In addition to running her dog in the vineyards, she uses whips that make a loud “pop” when she snaps them, which scares the birds. She looks like Indiana Jones out there!
By the way, have you ever seen – or heard – a flock of starlings? I live in a rural area and was out with my kids the other day when one came over the property. There must have been 1000 birds in that flock, and we could hear them coming. The noise was amazing. (No wonder a group of starlings is known as a ‘murmuration.’) And it looked like a giant, undulating alien ship overhead when they flew over. Of course starlings aren’t harmful to humans, just vineyards. All I could think was thank goodness for Kathleen and her falcon.
Director of Viticulture
It’s here! Harvest 2021 is underway at Hahn Family Wines. This is my 19th harvest at Hahn, and I must say I’m as excited this year as I’ve been every vintage since I started here. It doesn’t hurt that we’ve had an excellent growing season. We could have used a little more rain, but we were able to irrigate early in the winter and as a result our vine canopies were healthy from the get-go. The weather through the spring and summer was very consistent with no major heat spikes to speak of, and the grapes ripened slowly and evenly. Warm temperatures this past Labor Day weekend pushed the sugars to optimum levels, and this week I called the pick in several vineyards.
A few blocks in Doctor’s Vineyard were the first to come in, including the Calera and 667 Pinot Noir clones. These are typically some of the earliest grapes we harvest, as these clones produce clusters with small berries which tend to ripen quickly. I love these small berries. They are so rich and concentrated, and they bring great color, flavor intensity as well as tannin structure to the wines. We also brought in a few blocks of Pinot Noir destined for our Noir Blanc.
This week we embarked on an exciting new project, our “Guest Lucienne” series. Typically, our Lucienne wines are sourced from our Santa Lucia Highlands estate vineyards, but honestly, there are so many great vineyards in California, and we want to be able to offer our wine club members and tasting room customers a taste of these phenomenal sites. First up is the Solomon Hills Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley AVA in Santa Barbara County. With soils composed primarily of ocean-derived sandy loams, Solomon Hills is the western most and coolest vineyard in the appellation, with a reputation for wines of bright fruit and precise acidity. We’re excited to have access to this highly acclaimed vineyard and can’t wait to share it with you.
Until next time!
Director of Winemaking