Nearly all this year’s grapes have been picked, leaving San Luis Obispo County winemakers breathing a sigh of relief after a wacky harvest season that kept them on their toes from start to finish.
After a promising start with drought-relieving winter rains and a temperate growing season, things took a turn with a prolonged heat spike followed by a couple light rains and unseasonably cool weather.
The odd weather spells caused unusual ripening patterns, prompting winemakers to work closely with their vineyard managers on deciding when to pick what and scrambling to find the labor to do it.
The wildfires in Northern California’s wine country also punctured the busy annual harvest, sending the local industry into a flurry of checking on colleagues up north and sending equipment and supplies to help.
“We’ve worked through a challenging vintage and at this point, I’m tired and ready to wrap it up,” winemaker Ryan Deovlet wrote in Deovlet Wines’ newsletter.
Adding to the oddity, it seems that no two vineyards fared the same, with no clear consensus on the vintage aside from an optimistic view from the cellar, where the grapes and juice are now fermenting.
Here are some snippets from harvest across the county.
▪ It was a backwards harvest in places, noted Per Caso Winery’s Steve Glossner, with some white grapes ripening after the usually later-maturing red varieties. “We’re seeing some variation in ripening this year due to the extreme heat and sudden cool down,” Glossner said.
▪ At some vineyards, such as the dry-farmed kukkula wines, nearly all the grapes were picked over a few days around the end of August and beginning of September. A few report being true to historical norms, but others noted being only halfway through by mid-October.
“Harvest 2017 can only be described as waiting for paint to dry,” San Marcos Creek Vineyard’s Kimberly and Roberto Morelli said. “We should be close to putting the final fermentations into barrel, but nope.”
▪ Smart picking decisions were critical to getting quality fruit into the winery. “Fruit characteristics change dramatically daily” during temperature spikes, Thacher Winery’s Sherman Thacher said. “Patience is important,” Giornata Wine’s Brian and Stephy Terrizzi noted. “During a heat spike, the sugars can spike as well, and then recede as temperatures cool down.”
▪ Still, quality and quantity varied widely from site to site. “Microclimates and varieties played a big part in this,” Thacher said. “Having the luxury of sourcing from many vineyards helps us secure a nice balance in the cellar.”
▪ While the temperature drop brought its own headaches over stalled ripening, it averted disaster for many wineries.
If the heat spell had continued, “all fruit would have had to come in immediately — totally overwhelming the winery,” Alta Colina winemaker Bob Tillman said. Thankfully, he added, things returned to a more controlled pace. “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we are going to make our best ever wine in 2017.”
Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter or Instagram @sallybuffalo.
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