Vintage 2011 journey complete
Vintage 2011’s Journey to Harvest is now happily complete. All of the grapes from MacLeod Family Vineyards are delivered to our winery clients. We count ourselves among the “winery clients,” with small tonnages of each of our three varieties – Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Merlot – going to make our own MacLeod Family Vineyards wines. The Zinfandel and Merlot that will eventually become two of our ranch wines have finished fermentation and have been pressed and are now quietly resting in oak barrels. Our winemaker reported the new Zinfandel has wonderful promise with great color and stunning aromas of spice and blackberry. “When we were pressing it was as if a truckload of blackberries had been added to the press.”
We feel very fortunate in that most of our grapes were picked on Saturday, Oct. 1, two days ahead of the first major fall rain. We had planned to pick the following Monday but son John and the rest of the ranch team, keeping the threat of rain in mind, made a major operational change of plan to pick Saturday instead. This was a huge effort! The ranch team picked three different varieties and shipped to five different clients on that same day! The day ended with John and daughter-in-law Marjorie personally escorting the last shipment to our winery and then staying to do a quality bunch check as each of our Zinfandel bins was processed. It was 9 p.m. before they returned to the ranch.
As happy as we are to have the harvest complete, we hardly allow ourselves 10 minutes before we begin planning vintage 2012. So much to think about: How and what kind of fertilizer should be applied before the rains come? What pruning strategy should we plan for in each vineyard block? What cover crops should we plant in the vineyard rows and with what objective? What repairs to the trellises and irrigation system? It’s as if we have our 15,000 vines out there all screaming, with Marie and Javier, our vineyard spokesvines, leading the chorus…“Take Care Of Us!!!”
Climate change in Sonoma Valley?
It is easy to think that global climate change is something that is taking place somewhere else on the globe. The changes are slow and not always obvious. But let’s look at some of the issues we think we are seeing on our ranch and here in Sonoma Valley. Right now some 25% of the current county grape crop still has not been harvested. That’s three weeks behind our ‘normal’ time. We have had heavy spring and fall rains and cool summers causing late harvests. The heavy rains at bloom time this spring had all sorts of unexpected bad results. We lost almost 25% of our Sauvignon Blanc due to ‘shatter’ resulting from poor fruit pollination due to rain at bloom time. In some other areas of the county the crop loss was as much as 75%. The heavy spring rains made the vines a little too happy. Much of the resulting vegetative growth had to be removed to open up the canopy so that the small grape bunches could obtain sun and air to mitigate against mildew and bunch rot.
It’s an uncertainty that only compounds the complexity of trying to plan for next year. We would like to prune early, as that would obtain an earlier harvest date. But this would mean earlier bud growth that would be vulnerable to late frosts or rains during bloom time. We cannot, of course, know if these few years are an aberration or part of major climate change. For our part this is our 32nd harvest for our ranch and these changes are new.
And now to wind up vintage 2011, a few words from our two “spokesvines” – Marie for the Sauvignon Blanc and Javier for the Zinfandel.
Marie’s Sauvignon Blanc Report
Well there is no point in crying over spilt milk to revisit our poor fruit set due to rain at bloom time. Our quality this year is superb, and the performance of the new cane-pruned blocks is just super. We look forward to converting the rest of our vines in the coming pruning season.
Javier’s Zinfandel Report
Patron! All of us are very pleased with our production and quality. Our tonnage was the best we have done in the past 10 years, and our bunches were all a little bigger than in other years. We admit there may have been a bunch or so with bunch rot, but Chuy’s men were able to spot and discard those bunches. At pruning time this winter we are expecting you to expand our head pruned blocks.
Aside from being thankful and happy to have this overall good harvest complete, there is even better news on the horizon. Wine production has finally caught up with the excess grape capacity and there are signs, rumors, and even a few real-world examples of grape prices getting better. Perhaps we are near the end of a seven year Biblical plague of excess capacity and continued lower and lower prices!
Dear readers and friends, thanks for your continued good vibes and support as we made our way through another Vineyard Journey to Harvest. And of course a toast to Vintage 2012!