This year’s harvest has proved to be a challenge even for those winemakers and growers who have been making wine for 30 plus years . Besides the previous challenges associated with this year’s vintage i.e. extra canopy management , not enough degree days, and early rain right before harvest, there is one last challenge, harvesting the fruit and “ripeness”.
The question is how long can we put up a fight before Botrytis overruns everything and harvest will skip over us?
Although at Hossfeld Vineyards we grow Bordeauxs, we have entered into the beginning of a fight to protect our crop until we make the level of Brix stated in our contracts. It is challenging , extra spray programs eat away at the profit but on the other hand noble rot ridden fruit will affect flavor of the wine. Not only are molds a problem but the actual berry is becoming exhausted as it can only contract so many times during the hot days and cool nights before it wears out becoming soft and flabby. With each passing storm the danger of losing one’s crop is increasingly becoming a reality.
A few growers have been hit by the horrible reality of loosing one’s crop after a storm where the grapes just couldn’t resist being overtaken by Botrytis and Aspergillus ( the feared green mold). Even Merlot is starting to see signs of susceptibility as the canopy becomes tired and the fruit softer with each passing day . With grapes arriving on the crush pad at lower than usual degrees of Brix , the 2011 wines will be a different style than what is normal for California Wines.
Growers are using every method to keep fruit hanging and healthy. Cakebread dried their fruit with a helicopter after a rain storm and other growers and wineries are adding more spray programs, spraying fungicides to prevent everything from Botrytis to Aspergillus. Growers are either accommodating or letting their grapes rot. It is a challenge and the grower/winemaker relationship is being strained, the very relationship that makes the industry thrive. Each side will have to accommodate.
The motto for this year’s vintage is: “flavor is the key” rather than degree of Brix. Essentially winemakers and growers are agreeing to pick based on the all over flavor of the grapes especially when a storm is looming in the forecast. Winemakers that have a strong chemistry background are looking at the glucose/fructose level rather than Brix. Everyone is feeling the same pinch , as you debate how much mold is acceptable? What TA and PH levels can we accept for our wine making as well as the minimum Brix?
The big debate is either pick it early with its associated problems that will occur in the wine making process or pick it with problems ? Either way this vintage will be challenging for winemakers as well and will necessitate more resources to smooth out this vintage whether it is filtering the juice, adding more new oak or a heavier toast. 2011 is and will be a very resource intense vintage.
As the forklift arrives today, we will be starting our first pick, almost a month behind our usual pick date. The fruit is hanging in there but it is definitely tired and experiencing a little bit of Botrytis. Can’t wait for the magical 2012 vintage next year and hope that this 2011 vintage shows itself off like the current tasting of the ’98 vintage , 13 years after aging .