by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
A perfect storm has resulted in probably the shortest harvest ever. The cool weather throughout the growing season resulted in grapes that would normally have been harvested in September still not being ripe late into October. For red grape growers, the rains earlier this month couldn’t have been less welcome, but there was little choice but to leave the grapes on the vine since they weren’t close to being ripe. So everyone pretty much took a deep breath, and let the grapes hang. Even the atheists prayed. The inevitable result was rot, and there’s been plenty.
At some point, the grapes have ripened all they are going to, yet the threat persists that the rot will get even worse. So everyone decides at pretty much the same time to bring the grapes in. So this week everyone has been crazy harvesting and crushing.
We harvested pretty much everything we have this week. And it wasn’t a bunch of fun. We started with our Petite Sirah on Wednesday. This variety, which is particularly susceptible to botrytis rot, had shown hardly any rot a week earlier. But by harvest day, the signs of botrytis were obvious. Still, from what I hear from others, we were less affected than most. Nonetheless, we had to install two workers at the bins to throw out rotted clusters that we couldn’t get the pickers to reject. We were pretty successful in getting rid of most of the bad fruit, but, still, it’s not nearly as good as having clean fruit to begin with.
On Thursday, we picked the Merlot, which was really in very good shape.
On Friday, we got around to the Montepulciano. Most of the grapes were in okay shape, but there was a lot of bunches with mildew from earlier in the year that we had to sort out. Normally, heat and sulfur keep mildew under control, but this year’s cool weather allowed the mildew to thrive.
Amazingly, our estimates of the yields on these grapes were fairly accurate. There are various ways to try to predict how much fruit you have hanging, but you often find that your best estimate isn’t very good.
The Montepulciano was way off from last year, having had a lot of shatter due to the spring rains. Normally this variety produces 6-7 tons/acre easily, but this year we only got 4 tons/acre. I am a big booster when it comes to Montepulciano, and one of the reasons is that it seems to be very resistant to botrytis even though it ripens very late, late enough that it pretty much is guaranteed to get rained on.
Yields on the Petite Sirah and Merlot were off 20-25% from last year, which wasn’t a big year to begin with. I have been hearing that our experience is pretty much par for the course, if not a little better than most. So supplies this year will be low compared to normal. Hopefully, the price of wine reflects the scarcity, since it’s been hard to make a decent return on wine in the glutted market that we’ve had the past several years.
So we’re already beginning to look forward to the 2012 season, and we can say with a high degree of confidence it will be an improvement over this one.