Last week we did some hand harvesting – five tons of Pinot Noir Clone 828 from our Smith Vineyard, destined for our Pinot Noir Blanc program, plus three tons of the Pinot Noir Calera clone which will go into Lucienne. Those Calera clusters are just gorgeous: deep color, great ratio of skin (where color and flavor come from) to pulp and amazing flavors. I can’t wait to see what this component brings to the wine.
We also had a pretty good heat wave late last week, with temperatures getting close to the 100’s. As a result, picking in our Santa Lucia Highlands estate vineyards really accelerated. The heat’s not unusual for this time of year, but it does put some pressure on the vines…and us. Heat causes the grape sugars to rise, and we’re seeing many of our blocks achieve ripeness at the same time. To get the fruit off the vines at optimum ripeness and flavor – before the grapes get dehydrated – we pull out our Pellenc harvesters. While these incredible machines greatly speed up the harvesting process, they are also gentle on clusters, allowing us to bring in 50 – 70 tons versus less than 10 tons hand harvested, daily. Needless to say, the winery is busy!
When harvest is in full swing Paul (Clifton), Patrick (Headley) and I adopt a “divide and conquer” strategy; between the three of us we get to all of our estate vineyards at least a couple of times a week. We look at the quality, quantity and ripeness of the fruit as well as any signs of stress in the vineyards. Then we get together as a team, share information and determine which blocks will be picked over the next several days. We also rely on data from our in-house laboratory, which analyzes vineyard samples and sends us reports twice a week. Choosing the right time to pick is one of the most important decisions our winemaking team makes all year. It’s truly a team effort.
Although we are working really hard (seven-day work weeks are a given), most winemakers, myself included, love harvest. It’s a lot of pressure, but also the most fun and important time of year. We try to do the absolute best we can, because harvest sets the stage for the future of the wine. And we love what we do.
Juan Jo Verdina, Winemaker