A Tale of Two Harvests
As Sadie and I watch our final two lots of 2022 Cabernet Sauvignon slowly approach the finish line of fermenting dry, I thought it appropriate to pause and look back at this vintage. In the spring we experienced some high winds and rains that impacted the fruit set. Summer was poised for an excellent long ripening, and as harvest approached, it was so interesting chatting with neighboring growers about how much on track 2022 was when compared to 2021. We all loved the quality (and quantity) of our 2021, so it was an exciting indicator.
We started Harvest 2022 much like 2021 with our Pinot Noir. The quality was terrific, and yields were on track for 2021. More proof that Spring Mountain is a fantastic place for Pinot Noir!
Two days later, we moved down to Kenwood to pick our Sauvignon Blanc. Our timing was spot on, giving us unique tropical aromas and balanced flavors. The weather was beautifully mild, and we could take our time processing the fruit, clarifying the juice and even getting it down to ferment in barrel before we had to think about picking again. After 6 days of no picking, it was time to move on to our Estate Chardonnay. We had a feeling that the conditions of spring were going to impact some varietals differently in terms of yield, and we were about to see to what extent that would be. We didn’t realize it at the time, but Chardonnay has harvested the exact same date as 2021, September 2nd. Unfortunately, our yields were down by over 25%. The flavors and aromas are stunning and we look forward to sharing this vintage with you in about 11 months.
What followed was another 11 days of waiting. Farming requires great patience! Every day, Juan would ask me, “We pick tomorrow? They’re picking at <insert winery name here>”. But the flavors just weren’t ready. I was particularly watching our Merlot with an eagle eye planning for a second vintage of Rosé of Merlot. Our club members received the 2021 vintage so enthusiastically that I was planning on a follow up release, perhaps even doubling production. However, farming is also about being flexible. After reviewing the low Chardonnay yield, as I was walking our Merlot blocks I came to the realization that our yields in Merlot were going to be down significantly. Ultimately, we had to make the tough call and cancel any Rosé plans for the 2022 vintage. As it is, yields were so low that we may have to cut our regular Merlot release numbers from this vintage. Of course, the upside of low yields is typically enhanced flavor, aromas, and mouthfeel, which holds true of this vintage of Merlot.
Around the corner, there’s Malbec, a heat wave, and rain.
“Then tell the Wind and Fire where to stop, but don’t tell me.”
– Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
One of my mentors once described Malbec as the “heartbreak grape”. In ideal years, it will produce way too much fruit and you’ll have to drop 80% of your crop to have quality. In bad years, you’ll have amazing quality, because your yields are down by 95%. Well, this was a tough year for Malbec. We didn’t send out a picking crew, but a search party.
Starting September 13, we opened up the gates with five consecutive days of picking, bringing in all of our Malbec (at less than 0.5 ton/acre), all of our Merlot, Gate block Cabernet, and most of our Montaire Cabernet. As we neared the end of this five day stretch, we were starting to run out of fruit at peak ripeness.
Weather forecasts had been calling for a heat wave for weeks, and as the dates got closer, the forecast high temperatures, not to mention the length of the heat wave, kept getting more extreme. Many growers around us engaged in “panic picking”, opting to get the fruit in early before it cooked. We chose to wait it out. I often say, “I can do more with a week over-ripe than one day under-ripe” and we stuck to our guns.
Through the heat wave we watched berries that were healthy at the beginning of the heat wave start to shrivel. Berries that were already stressed turned to mummies. Sugars shot up, but flavors didn’t improve. This wasn’t ripening, it was dehydration. Vines don’t ripen fruit much over 95 Farenheit. The vines just shut down and do their best not to lose water. While more growers started to pick just as salvage operations, we held fast. Soon the heat wave was over and 36 hours later…rain?!? Over 1.5” in 24 hours! What the actual &%#?
This rain was a challenge for growers who still had thin skinned varietals out that were mildew susceptible. By this time, all we had out in the rain was our very mildew tolerant Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. As the rains subsided our optimism was rewarded. Many of the berries that had started to shrivel actually began to plump back up!
Ten days after the start of the heat wave, we were back in the saddle picking once again. The high heat had impacted our final yields, but patience was rewarded with round, well resolved tannins, intense flavor, and extremely aromatic juice.
These final days of harvest were dramatically different from the pre-heat wave days, which is why I started this blog as the tale of two harvests. The first half, before the heat wave, was a very relaxed pace focused on our lighter aromatic wines, moving into days of challenging picking in the gate block where the fruit came in slowly, to the soft round tannins of Montaire. The heat wave was a pause of nervousness. “Did we make the right decision to wait?” “Will this heat ever end?” “Will we have any grapes left to harvest?”. Then the rains came! Our salvation! The second half was a series of fast and furious with everything ready.
The vineyard crew will often ask me at sunrise, “How much do we get to pick today?”. My normal response might be “6 ton” or “8 ton”. These days it was, “How much you got in you? Let’s go and not stop ‘til we drop!” Those last four days, we brought in more tons of fruit than we had all the previous days before the heat wave. Those of you who follow us on social media may have even seen us having some fun with a “prehistoric” vineyard worker.
What harvest is without nervous decision making? Hand wringing? Second guessing yourself? There’s always uncertainty. 2022 was definitely one to test a grower and winemaker’s mettle, but what we are tasting in the barrels is phenomenal! Another harvest down, another year wiser. Another great year of amazing wines with nowhere to go but up!
Next up, 2023, our 30th year of winemaking at Schweiger Vineyards!
“Nothing that we do, is done in vain. I believe, with all my soul, that we shall see triumph” – Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens