Alan Baker
September 10, 2010 | In the Vineyard | Alan Baker

The Summer that wasn't suddenly was

This has been a year that seemed to never warm up.... Until a few weeks ago when it hit 109 deg F with little warning. And this was in the Russian River Valley where temps rarely come close to that. For many growers it has been a year they are already willing to wipe out of their memory but the curve balls keep coming. It goes a little like this:

Winter: Cold, rainy

Spring: Cold, rainy

Early Summer: Cold, rainy

Summer: Cold, foggy

Late Summer: WTF?

We spent all summer wishing for a little heat and dry weather to help ripen things up and avoid mildew. Then in a true case of "careful what you wish for..." a few Tuesdays back we got our wish when it went from 51 deg F to 109 deg. F in a single day. The grapes had no time to acclimate to the heat since they hadn't seen any this year, and most everything that was in direct sun was toasted. Not a disaster for most growers since we've been waiting to drop extra fruit to balance the crop load out on the vines. Well, we dropped the sunburned fruit just in time to see two more consecutive days of 100 degree heat. Now there are bunches dehydrated from the prolonged heat.

It's going to be a year where those vineyard managers who have the skill and hands on deck to manage the damage will be able to come out way above the standard for the year. I can only speak for those of us focused on Pinot and other early ripening varieties but the weather pattern seems to be holding. Who knows what is coming, however.

I've heard from winemakers who have already pulled in fruit that they have never seen fruit that has come in mature at these low sugar levels. So for every winemaker who wishes they could make a "Burgundian" Pinot, this is the year where we will see mature flavors from grapes with lower sugar levels.

After such a harrowing tale, it might seem odd that I'm really excited by this harvest but we've taken the drastic measures in the vineyard to eliminate sub-par fruit, now we get to work with grapes that have a very unique and, to me, appealing character. We'll see what song I'm singing after we barrel down, but for the growers and wine makers who have the ability to be very selective and hands-on before the grapes hit the winery, this should be an amazing year.

- Alan


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