Other than a few bits and pieces, we’ve finished picking Pinot Noir from our Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards and have moved on to Pinot Noir from Arroyo Seco. Last Saturday we brought in some beautiful fruit for Orchestral, our field mix Pinot Noir with 20 different clones from one block in Lone Oak Vineyard. And now we’re picking Chardonnay from our Arroyo Seco vineyards. I estimate we’re nearly half-way through harvest; of approximately 1000 acres, I’d say we’ve picked about 400
of them.

Chardonnay ready for harvesting

As you might imagine, the cellar is busy. Many of the Pinot Noir lots we’ve brought in have already fermented to dryness. We ferment our Pinot Noirs in a combination of open and closed-top fermenters, which both have advantages. We monitor each tank closely, checking them several times a day, and once the wines are dry, we drain the free run juice out of the tanks, press the remaining grapes and skins, and put the free run and pressed wine into separate barrel lots. We’ll use the free run lots – which are generally the best quality grapes – in our SLH and Lucienne wines; we’ll evaluate the quality of the press wines and determine their future at a later date.

Constantly rearranging the cellar

Managing the cellar this time of year is a bit like musical chairs. While we’re out in the vineyards determining just the right time to harvest the grapes, we also need to be sure we have the tank space for the grapes coming in. Chardonnay – when barrel fermented – is in and out of tank pretty fast. After pressing the grapes we let the juice settle for one or two days, then rack it off the gross lees (the seeds, skin and stems which settle at the bottom of the tank) and into barrels where it begins fermentation. Pinot Noir is a different story, since it goes through fermentation in the tanks, which can take 7 to 10, and at times, up to 14 days. Somehow we always seem to have enough tank space to see us through, and I’m impressed with how our team handles these complex logistics. The first few days of a wine’s life are crucial from a quality standpoint, and we try hard not to miss a beat.

Paul Clifton, V.P. of Winemaking