There’s a whole lot of excitement surrounding bud break in spring and harvest/crush in early fall, but what about the “in-between” time happening right now in Paso Robles? You might not know it, but winemakers are extremely busy as summer winds to a close (and no, they haven’t been “on vacation” like the rest of us). In fact, what happens now has a huge effect on what you’ll be drinking later, so take note of the latest vineyard changes next time you’re driving through wine country. We especially suggest you stop by these local estate wineries and ask what’s happening with their vineyards right this minute. You’ll likely hear a bit about the growing pains and pleasures like these:
If you think a big, plump, red ready-to-be-picked cluster of grapes is the epitome of vineyard beauty, then you haven’t seen veraison in action. This magical process—when the grapes slowly turn one by one from hard and green to luscious, round, and colorful, is a sight to behold. White wine grapes transform into greenish yellow or gold orbs and red wine grapes metamorphosis into purple, red, or dark blue beauties. Sugar surges and acidity decreases, which means that winemakers must watch fruit very closely from this point on. Just as each varietal ripens at a different time, so does each individual grape in the cluster. This dance requires a skillful eye: Fruit picked too soon won’t have the right balance of sugar, acidity, and tannin. Fruit left to hang too long can become a disastrous “alcohol bomb” devoid of nuance. This relatively peaceful period between August and September is the perfect time to reflect on all of the exciting possibilities yet to come…and prepare for the worst.
Vineyard to Glass:
With clay loam soils, Hearst Ranch Winery’s Saunders Vineyard in the south and west-facing Paso hills is the perfect site to farm Syrah and Petite Sirah. Try their 2013 “The Pergola” Petite Sirah, which tastes of chocolate, sweet bacon fat, and vanilla.
Mapping and Directions to San Simeon Location: speedfind.com/HearstRanchWinery
Mapping and Directions to Cholame Location: speedfind.com/HearstRanch
When you’re growing any fruit, you will want to sacrifice a few of the lesser sprouts so that the resulting bloom is more successful, right? Well, the same goes for wine grapes. In fact, winemakers cut back plant growth all year long for this very reason (plus, it helps ensure that the plant receives the correct amount of light through the canopy). Ongoing drought in California has also added in another factor: smaller foliage more sustainable for utilitarian purposes, although it happens to have a second, surprise result. That is, many winemakers feel less fruit equals more concentrated flavor payoff. You might be surprised to see vineyard managers cutting fruit from the vineyard at this time of year, but don’t worry, they know what they’re doing. And, chances are, what’s left on the vine is sure to shine even brighter as a result.
From Vine to Glass:
When you own an ultra boutique winery, only the very best fruit is allowed to hang on the vine and ripen into maturity. Taste this selective process in action with a 2013 Michael Gill Cellars Viognier, a lively marriage of fruit and delicate oak notes.
Mapping and Directions: speedfind.com/MichaelGillCellars
Protecting the Fruit
Once the delicious fruit starts ripening into juicy morsels, a whole host of animals see just one thing: “free snacks!” Birds, insects, deer, and even bears have been known to go hog wild over the tantalizing developing wine grapes. Could anything be more tragic for a winemaker, who has slaved day in and day out over these fledgling plants? Luckily, there are lots of eco-friendly ways that vineyard managers can keep pests away, including installing owl boxes, releasing beneficial insects into the vineyard, installing fencing and netting, and even pushing “play” on a soundtrack of loud noises. Anything to protect the coming vintage, right?
From Vine to Glass:
At Jada Vineyard & Winery, the vineyard is seen as an ecosystem, which leads to holistic management practices. These include integrating crops with livestock, recycling nutrients, maintaining soil, enhancing the health and wellbeing of crops and animals, and even the farmer too. Taste the biodynamic vineyard firsthand with a bottle of 2015 1149 estate Mourvedre Rose, which tastes of rose petals, white peach, and raspberry.
What? Really? So soon? You bet! Many wine grape varieties, including delicate, high-acid whites, are ready to harvest far earlier than reds, sometimes as early as July. Farmers will tell you that the weather changes the game every single year. One vintage might be ready for harvest in late October while the same wine grape could be ready to come off the vine in late August or early July the following year. It all depends on the varietal, the weather, and the fruit’s individual phenolic makeup. During this time of year, wine labs across the county are looking at that makeup (the compounds inside ripening grapes) and (when the fruit is ready) giving the go-ahead for harvest way before some varietals have even fully ripened.
From Vine to Glass:
Soaring Hawk Vineyards is known for its fresh, vibrant whites, which are known to ripen earlier than darker red wine varietals. Refresh the senses with a glass of chilled 2014 Roussanne, shining with bright pear fruit and honey goodness.
Mapping and Directions: speedfind.com/SoaringHawkVineyards
This doesn’t just mean making sure the buckets are scrubbed and the vines are ripening on schedule. Harvest also calls for a massive organizational structure akin to a fancy wedding. There’s the grape harvesters who need to be hired, the equipment that needs to be checked, replaced, or purchased, the harvest events that need to be planned, and the winemaking schedule to be determined. Not all wineries have massive crush pads and vast winemaking facilities designed to take in many different loads at once. That being said, which grapes will likely come off the vine first? Which varietals seem to be running on schedule and which will be delayed (unless Mother Nature has changes everything at the last moment, which she tends to do)? Which white wine grapes need to come off at night, when the air is cool? Where will the wines be stored and for how long? Who will clean up the unexpected spills, watch the tasting room at a moment’s notice, or change the baby diapers when mom or dad has to run to the vineyard at 2 a.m.? All the possibilities both good and bad are up in the air—which is why some winemakers lose more sleep than an anxious bride about this time of year. Like with all of life’s challenges, an Excel spreadsheet works wonders, but it cannot predict what all winemakers are grappling with right now. That is to say, the unpredictable; the unknown.
From Vine to Glass:
Rotta Winery has been making wine since 1856, so it’s safe to say they know a bit about preparing for harvest. On the tail end of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, Rotta’s vineyards hang off steep hillsides comprised of Calcareous soils. Taste the terroir with a glass of 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, bursting with spice, clove, and nutmeg warmth. Tip: Save for when the weather turns cooler and the excitement of crush begins!
Mapping and Directions: speedfind.com/RottaWinery