2014 harvest complete
Grape growing is such a worrisome affair. At harvest, when the last gondola loaded with grapes is driven out our driveway, the collective sigh of relief is so great it can be heard from miles away. The good news is that the quality of vintage 2014 is the best we have ever seen – no bunch rot, no sunburn, no raisins – just beautiful bunch after beautiful bunch.
The reports from our winery clients are that the new young wines are fantastic. The wonderful winemakers at Envolve Winery have reported that the Sauvignon Blanc raw juice and beginning wine flavors are unique and fantastic, with subtle notes of banana, pineapple, and guava, and overall very rich in flavor. At this writing, fermentation is almost complete with about 5% residual sugar. They are thinking the finished wine could be released in February 2015.
Quality is excellent, yield is low
We humans are never satisfied. While the quality is great, the crop size is substantially less than we had hoped for. The yield in the Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot were smaller by 10 to 15%. Off 25% for our Zinfandel, which is even worse, as we get a higher price per ton for this variety. And from our family member who does his work wearing a dark green eyeshade and a sharp yellow pencil behind his ear has come the dour threat, “we will have to recompute the budget and there will have to be some cuts.” But for grower George, all those bookkeeping numbers that used to be “work in process”...now show up as an “asset”!!!
A dividend from happier vines
Recall that for the past few years we have been focusing on cultural practices to make the vines the happiest in the Valley. One of the experiments we’ve pursued the past few years is reducing the number of pruning cuts per vine during annual pruning. In the past, pruning would result in as many as 65 to 70 individual pruning cuts per vine. In our Block 9 we have three acres where we have been trying to develop vine training that will only require 8 to 10 pruning cuts per vine. Pre-harvest inspection by potential clients reported comments like, ”some of the best grapes we have ever seen and tasted.” And, “the bunches are bigger and the vine canes healthier and larger in diameter.” Typical Sauvignon Blanc bunches weigh .25 to .30 pounds per bunch. This year many bunches tip the scales at almost .5 pounds per bunch!
What does this unusual development mean? It will take a few more years to understand. Could it be that pruning hurts the vines feelings and has an effect on the grapes and wines? Vamos a ver (we think the vines speak Spanish). The English translation is “we will see.”
Harvesting in the dark
This is our 33rd grape harvest here on Indian Springs Ranch. In years past, harvest began when there was at least enough light in the sky that you could see your hand in front of your face and continued until about noon. For the last five years or so, growers and wineries have been experimenting with picking at night, normally starting as early as 2 a.m. The winemaker likes this as the grapes arrive at the winery cold and crisp with a hint of dew and in perfect condition. The pickers like it because they have been able to do this hard work in the cool of night with less fatigue (and fewer bees). This year a number of our clients were asking for night time picking. So this was our first year of picking beginning at 4 a.m.
Chuy Ordaz with LED headlamp.
Manager son John was, of course, out there in the dark, and on one night 93-year-old Grower George was out there too. It’s hard for me to describe just how dark it is out there at 4 a.m. It’s hard to see anything, much less a bunch of grapes hanging under a canopy of leaves. But technology has come to the rescue. Each person wears a Light Emitting Diode head lamp. Not perfect but with one or two motorized light trucks at the weighing station and loading of the filled bins on the giant transport trucks to the winery, the job is done. The operation reminded me of my WWII duty in the Pacific where I ran a round-the-clock ammunition depot in New Guinea, and we used trucks with motors running and head lights on to run the operation at night.
A full circle experience
When I was younger and working for Monsanto I was responsible for a small, intense group of engineers developing the new light emitting technology. You guessed it, the same technology that now makes it possible to pick grapes at night. This harvest, as I was out there in the grape picking blackness, wearing a headband loaned to me by manager Chuy, and lit by Light Emitting Diodes, I was also wearing a warm and nostalgic smile. It was indeed a full circle emotional experience. And by the way, this night time picking experience on our ranch was filmed by our friends at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. You can see the video on the MacLeod Family Vineyard Facebook page.
And finally...party time!
A week or so ago we had a full fledged party to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the beginning this ranch project. We drank up all the miscellaneous bottles of champagne in our inventory. And then a day or so later we had another reason to celebrate – the first ranch visit by new great-grandson Jackson Oliver Beitler. And if all this was not enough to make a grown man smile, our new book compiling the greatest hits of “Journey To Harvest” columns over the last 12 years has just been released. Indeed our glass is full.
Thank you, dear readers, for following our vintage 2014 Journey to Harvest story. I hope you’ve had as much fun in the reading as I have had in the writing. And I hope to see you again in January when the cycle begins again, and the journey of vintage 2015 gets underway.