My title tells it all going into harvest. Mother Nature gave us a full cropload at bloom, allowing us to drop crop to stylistic targets at veraison. Heat throughout the growing season told us to leave a half ton more per acre on vines as a heat buffer, acting to extend harvest into cooler weeks. However, it may not have been enough. We’ve had a week averaging 86F, bringing alarm at earlier ripening sites, a shortage of pickers and trucks, and wineries scrounging fermentors, realizing they might not be able to “turn” tanks for a second use in a compacted harvest.

We began picking last Saturday on a first-harvest block at our new Wind Ridge vineyard, then moving on to Stoller for Pinot Gris and then Pinot Noir. Being a warm site, it has moved quickly from not quite ready to being in fermentor in cold soak, as 51 tons of Pinot Noir has steadily marched in. Of course, as luck would have it, this week we had to exist without our chilling room, as our refrigeration system was replaced, so dry ice has been coming out of our ears to keep fermentors in cold soak rather than hot soak. Allen and Jaime at Stoller were also helpful in bringing in our fruit as early as possible in the day. The difference between a 7 am pick and a noon pick can be 55F versus 80F, and the quality implications would be severe. Melissa helped on one late pick day Thursday by letting us use their cold room–a feature of that winery that was almost missed until living through hot-and-hotter 2003 harvest days (I awoke one night realizing it was not on their new winery plans anywhere). We’re all glad it finally got there.

We’ve now transitioned to Corral Creek, and will do the unheard of by bringing in some Ridgecrest concurrently with the other two vineyards over the next few days. A crunched, hectic vintage that some cool weather could help.

Weather Today
This year has been another hot year, in the mode of 2003 and 2004.
In fact, the Cumulative Degree Days (a measure of the amount
of usable growing heat accumulated over the year) this year are the same as 2003, which ended up being the hottest year we’ve seen.

Through September 29th, 2006’s 2292 degree-days show
a family resemblance to all but 2005:
2005 — 2048; 2004 — 2235; 2003 — 2294.

In a hot year like this, although the ripeness and likelihood of harvesting without appreciable rain is improved, the character of the vintage is made in the last month before harvest.
That said, we have just experienced a week of above normal temperatures and are expecting a week or so
of cooling temperatures. Vineyard differences could be significant
this year, especially regarding sugars, alcohols and acid levels.
As always,
we pick on complex flavor development and signs of phenological ripening.

Precipitation has been minor thus far, with a
dry summer (2.9 inches in McMinnville recording station over the July – September quarter, 2.0 inches of that in September — a good thing to help move plant nutrients prior to final ripening) and most of that late rain being very localized (e.g., Stoller Vineyards saw only 0.4 inches in September).