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!
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.