I have to imagine I am not the only one, at least here in the Santa Ynez Valley, that feels like Winter came into town with full force this year, no messing around. It’s already freezing every morning, we’ve received over 2” of rain, and finishing work as the sun goes down makes me want to go home and listen to “Baby it’s cold outside” while eating hot soup by the fire. This harvest season has been particularly interesting, at least in comparison to the consistent, and dependable, 2021 vintage.
We began Harvest 2022 on August 30th with a pick of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc from the Santa Maria Valley, and finished a mere 66 days later on November 4th, with Mission (also from Santa Maria). But don’t fret my friends, 11/4 may have signified our last official pick, but on that day we still had 47 tons of active fruit within the winery walls, just three tons shy of our absolute max. That means that we will most likely be pressing into the Thanksgiving Holiday this year, a box we haven’t checked for quite some time.
All things considered, we are happy with this vintage, and even more pleased that we were able to get all of our fruit into the winery before this most recent rain storm, which dumped almost two inches in a couple of days! If I were to be critical, the “timing” aspect of this vintage was by far the most frustrating and exhausting. As I said above, we began on August 30th, which was about a week or so earlier than I had expected. For roughly two solid weeks after that, we had temperatures exceeding 100℉, every single day. This extreme heat put the industry along the west coast into a complete tailspin. Grape growers and winemakers were panicking, harvest crews were hard to come by and overworked, and grapes were getting picked multiple days later than what was preferable. The result was a “hot and fast” start to the vintage, sort of similar to cooking something on broil instead of low and slow. My personal belief is that much of the earlier harvested fruit during this heat spike had higher than desired sugar levels, and less than ideal physiological ripeness (maturity of flavors). For the winemakers who do not aim to add water, acid, or other chemistry altering additions to their grapes, it was a difficult start and/or harvest if you make primarily early ripening varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
By the second week in September, it was looking like we would have the earliest finish to date. For good reason too, as almost every crew, everywhere, was tired physically, mentally, and also ready for the heat to subside. Well, Mother Nature appeared to have given us what we wanted in spades, because temperatures got moderate, and essentially stayed like that for the rest of the season. Now, this may seem like a good thing, and in some cases it was, but for later ripening varietals, like Greanche, Mourvedre, Merlot, and Petite Sirah (not to mention a long list of others), there was not enough heat later on in the season to achieve the sugar levels we are accustomed to here in California. From my perspective, the result: there will be wines that are lower in alcohol, but also may have increased levels of physiological ripeness in comparison to last year, which ultimately is a good thing. It was a huge stress-point for winemakers who are used to a system in California: Harvest around 25-27 brix, add water, and make wines that are dense and opulent. This year, many of those winemakers found themselves buying every bag of sugar they could get their hands on, to later add to their ferments and achieve a comfortable level of final alcohol. Luckily for us, since elevated brix such as that is not our normal, we were able to naturally achieve reasonable sugar levels and bring it all in just in time.
After traveling and winemaking in other countries, I have often considered California as “lucky” in that most of our vintages are consistent, resulting in “consistently good wines.” That opinion has not dramatically changed, but in two of the last three years we have seen some pretty whacky weather, and I am beginning to wonder if California will showcase “good” and “bad” vintages sooner than I had imagined. For now, we have some fruit to press, some wine to go to barrel, and some long, deep breaths to take knowing that we made it through another year. I look forward to seeing each and every one of you soon in the tasting room or at an event! If not, I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday this year, and please don’t ever hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the wines, food pairings, or just want to say hello.
With warmth and love,