This time of year is always tough for me. I’ve never been a warm weather person and when the Autumn breeze picks up and the vineyards start to turn beautiful colors it makes me happy. But this is nearly always the time of year that is the most difficult for grape growers and winemakers – especially for those grapes that need the extra time on the vines.
Why? Well, for starters the moisture content in the air gets higher and usually we start to have cloudy days and certainly heavy morning fog. This can induce botrytis on the grapes leading to moldy clusters. Not good. In addition, with the shorter days there is limited amounts of sunlight which means it takes even longer to get the grapes ripe.
So as much as I want to light a fire, sit on my couch and get lost in a great wine…I’m torn. I want to enjoy this time of year and all the things that come along with it (like eating more), but I’m always concerned about the grapes. When the vineyards have been picked I feel so much better.
But it is about so much more than just getting grapes ripe. It’s also about developing flavors. Generally speaking the longer the grapes are on the vine, the more depth and character are developed. There is always a give and take when it comes to wine though. During the growing process sugars rise as acid levels fall – at some point the two intersect at the perfect time and that is when the orders are given to pick. There’s a little more to it than that, but those are two very important factors. But wait too long and the wine can be too alcoholic leading to a ‘hot’ character.
All reports I’ve heard is that this year has been a banner year. Quality is really great and quantity has been higher than expected. After two semi-rough years it’s a relief to see one where winemakers are really happy. The last two vintages have certainly had their challenges (cool summers, heat spikes, rain), but the great winemakers have taken the time to provide higher levels of care and sorting to bring out the best qualities.
I live in an amazing place to grow grapes and with very few exceptions the climate is perfect. We aren’t plagued with many of the issues that Europe deals with. It’s not uncommon for France to have rain in the summer and very cold weather early on requiring picking sooner than is desirable. Often I have customers ask me what my favorite California years are and I can truly say nearly all of them. Sure, they each have their nuances (some providing more fruit forward wines or others earthier) but we are lucky that we have these nearly perfect conditions turning out an excellent crop year after year.