For the first year I can remember, all bets are off on which vineyard is picked first, which next, which last! We actually began harvesting on Ribbon Ridge this year, unlike the common wisdom of Stoller first, then Corral Creek, then Ridgecrest—essentially by elevation and exposure. The early and overt heat has essentially shrunk those differences. And since the start we’ve been back-and-forth between all three AVAs.

With Ridgecrest Vineyards planted almost 34 years ago, Corral Creek 33 years ago, Stoller now over 20 years and Wind Ridge almost 13 years, vine maturity and balance helps keep sugars from skyrocketing and acids from plummeting in weather like this. Plants still have most of the water they need, except on days like today when we’re mid-90s. And they don’t stop working as readily with 90+F days as younger plants.

Wynne has a set rhythm for picking fruit and processing in the winery:

  • all fruit, white or red, goes into our chilling tunnel to assure delicate aromas and flavors are protected and that fruit isn’t prompted to spontaneously go into fermentation;
  • the white press goes 12+ hours a day as the early crew’s first thing to do and the late crew’s final cleaning job, with every cycle of 3 hours seeing a new set of bins tipped in and press tray-to-tank pumping monitored like a heart rate;
  • Pinot noir destemming starts first thing as soon as early morning punchdowns are complete—which requires more and more of the morning as every fermentor fills;
  • sampling candidate blocks happens every day and based on results a potential pick schedule is set and prior ones modified if necessary;
  • bins for only the amount we can force through are released to the vineyard crews for the next day’s pick—this, of course, can change as rain events loom dangerously for fruit on the verge of perfect ripeness, or in the other direction if tank or fermentor space hasn’t materialized due to a sluggish fermentation or settling regime—in a small winery like ours, there is not excess space, tanks have to be “turned” for double duty;
  • one person is given leave every day, lunch is significant and prepared most days by a culinary professional, beer flows well at the end of the day, and Blue Star donuts augment breakfast.

A fairly complex rhythm.

I’ll introduce the guest intern Harvest Crew next time.


Weather and Its Implications

Seems like today is the last very hot day of the year, if short-to-medium term forecasts are to be believed. At this point on the 12th of September, we have had 80 days with highs over 80F and 29 days over 90F, the same exact tally as 2014, BUT with 2014 tallied through OCTOBER—last year we had 12 days over 80F and 3 days over 90F after 9/12! So, still more to come? This is by far the record year.

There is some desiccation and softening of berries as plants pull water back to bear the heat. So, the chilling tunnel is welcome as well as the cooling trend, including a chance of a bit of rain in the next week. At this point we are almost 50% harvested based on projections.