Harvest is over! Yea!!!
Well... not "SO- Yea". It was a harsh year crop-wise.
Last night at 8:00 pm, following a day of unprecedented heat, a crew of 7 men arrived after darkness descended on Halleck Vineyard. The intent was to pick the grapes chilled in the fog.
But the fog never arrived, so the grapes were warm. It was a scorching day in Sebastopol; it reached 106 degrees. It's hard to believe. Especially when the low was 48 degrees!! Almost 60 degrees in variation in a single day.
By 8:00 it was probably in the 80s. Quite warm to be picking in the night. It was surreal being in a warm vineyard with head lamps bobbing in the quiet of darkness. No one spoke. The mood was somber.
Earlier in the afternoon, I went out to walk Franki at 5:00, still scorching, but waning. To my utter surprise, before we could leave the property, Franki sprinted full blast into the vineyard. He pierced under the bird nets, darting below the 10,000 volt electrical wires installed around every row to ward off the raccoons. Franki knows about those wires. He was a dog on a mission.
In a split second, over a hundred quail were swarming within the nets, capped from above and surrounded all around. And Franki was chasing every bird. I thought it would be a blood bath. I had no idea how they got in, as the vineyard is totally tented to protect from starlings, turkeys and quail. But they were in, and struggling to avoid the intrepid efforts of Franki, our VERY fast Basenji.
But then they were gone. It was like a magic trick. Franki had not caught a single bird. And the vineyard was empty. And I looked at the center of the vineyard and saw every cluster plucked to the skeleton.
So I walked around the perimeter to figure it out. The day prior, the vineyard manager and his colleague had been there to inspect the crop prior to pick. They had walked up and down the rows and inadvertently failed to seal the vineyard at several spots of entrance and egress. Further, some of the netting over the top of the vineyard had been breached. Perhaps it was the frantic birds tearing through; perhaps it was oversight. But the damage was done and the sources obvious. We lost a significant percentage of the crop just hours before the pick.
When the crew arrived, I walked around the vineyard with our manager and pointed the points of avian entry. He just shook his head.
Men worked and worked and worked. It was almost midnight when I got a knock on the door that they were finished. Given the time, I'd hoped against hope that it meant that grapes were discovered in parts I hadn't seen. But when the crop is lean, it takes longer to select and cut the clusters than when the crop is full. After over 3 hours of work, we were left with less than one bin full.
I had dinner prepared for the crew on the back deck: a selection of personally made sandwiches, water, cut melon, and a variety of hot sauces. We sat quietly, discussing what we can do next year to avoid this year's misfortune. By midnight, they were off to grab a few hours sleep before their next job at 4:00 am.
This morning, I was driving an almost empty 16-foot truck to the winery. I had 3 empty bins and one almost-full. The weight told it all. In a half ton bin, I was holding 630 pounds of grapes. They were delicious, to be sure. But I had an ill feeling all morning. To top it off, I took pictures and videos during the night to include in this blog and all were black.
Our decision whether to make the small harvest into wine or blend it into our Three Sons or Hillside Cuvees concerned me. The grapes will only fill a half barrel with wine; but we've decided to do so. The fruit is luscious. It will be a tiny 2015 release. The story will be retold during every bottle shared.
That's the reason for a vintage; it's oral history.
After three stunning vintages, back-to-back, 2015 has been challenging. Though many immediately jump to the conclusion, "it must be the draught", in west Sonoma County, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it's just the opposite.
Halleck Vineyard has experienced "shatter". Grape shatter (or coulure in French) occurs when grape clusters do not develop completely during infancy. Either the grapevine's flowers weren't pollinated and never developed into berries, or the tiny berries fell off soon after they formed. This is referred to as "poor fruit set."
Shatter happens during the spring, triggered by rain, wind, rough handling, or extremes in temperature during bloom. Shatter can happen to any grape, but some varieties of grapes are more at risk, such as Pinot.
Flowers can be male, female or perfect. Nearly all Vitis vinifera grape varieties have hermaphroditic (perfect) flowers, containing functional male and female parts. Each of the five stamens (male pollen-bearing organs of the flower), consists of a pollen-producing anther and a filament or stalk. The female pistil consists of a stigma, a style, and an ovary. The stigma serves as the receiver of pollen.
Cool, wet or even overcast weather can reduce fruit set. At each stage (floral initiation, development, bloom and fruit set) the weather can cause damage. Cold and overcast weather prior to bloom leads to problems with floral development. Cold weather during bloom can cause a delay in the blooms development and lead to reduced set.
Rain during bloom is the ultimate fear of any grape grower and occurred in early March of this year, 2015. Rain physically inhibits pollination and fertilization. Hence, we have a spotty crop of less than 30% of the previous three vintages of 2012, 2013, and 2014. So here we are, suffering from a draught with a fraction of the annual expected rainfall; then we get two days of rain in June, during the 36 hour window of pollination.
Shatter is the perfect term for this condition; the hopes and dreams of a bountiful harvest are shattered!. In truth, there's always some amount of shatter. It's not feasible that every flower forms into a berry. The vine wouldn't be able to provide nutrition to all of the fruit and ultimately die. As with everything in life, there are varying degrees of shatter. Some are expected and acceptable. While others are devastating.
With our harvest days away and our Harvest Party just a couple of weeks, this is an anxious time.
2015 is one of those difficult years.