2019 is a promising year -- we’ve had even, moderate temperatures -- which are holding through harvest. Yes, there were some hot days in the summer, but that’s happened every year since we arrived at the ranch in 1955 – days here and there – but unlike the last couple of years, ’19 hasn’t seen any week-long stretches of weirdly hot weather. It varies by block, but most of the fruit is coming in about a week later this year – not a sea change, but more time to mature on the vine without the sugars shooting up. We started with the Sauvignon Blanc on September 9 – that’s the photo. You’ll see a little Botrytis – the “noble rot” – which is not common for that block. We love exploring what the year gives. Then we brought in four boxes of Merlot on the 13th for a rosé – that’s the other photo. The rosé is just for family and friends (including our direct purchasers). The single acre Los Ricos Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard came in on the 24th. It’s going into a small lot, vineyard designated bottling. The Pool Block was also picked on the 24th. It will go into the Ranch Cabernet. We harvested the Cabernet Franc on the 26th. Next up is Brothers Cabernet – the pick starts at 8 PM tonight. Stay tuned.
The photo is just after dawn as the sun breaks over the Brothers Vineyard and the crew is just finishing our first pick for 2019 -- the single acre of Sauvignon Blanc. This continues to be another interesting growing season -- fewer heat spikes than most years, cooler nights, and everything taking a just a touch more time. We're going to bring in some Merlot on Wednesday for a dry rosé, and then it will be time to hurry up and wait for the reds to finish ripening.
We moved our "harvest" party up to late July to make sure our vineyard staff would be able to come -- once harvest actually starts, they're busy almost every day. We were excited to see our vineyardists, wine club members, friends, family, and other Napa Valley wine people partying together under the oaks by our remote "Lost Orchard" vineyard at the east end of the property. This is winemaker Diana Snowden Seysses, in from France, pouring magnums of two wines from the '90s and the rest from the '00s. The food came from both sides of the boarder, the music was Norteño, and the weather was perfect -- which pretty much describes the growing season so far: slow, steady, and comfortable. Here's a shot of Cabernet Sauvignon in our Brothers' Vineyard on August 8. The chances of several curve balls coming up before harvest are near certain, but fingers are crossed.
Ranch manager Severiano Deloera and his team finished pruning our final block last week. We always hold the single acre of Sauvignon Blanc until the end of pruning to delay budbreak in the only spot on the ranch where we've ever experienced a frost issue. Seve keeps his group small so they can stay in close touch while they work. Pruning is one of the most sensitive steps in the annual cycle. Not only are they shaping the vine for this vintage -- they're also defining the universe of possibilities for next year. Budbreak is about a week away -- two weeks later than last year. We like that. The longer the winter dormancy, the more rest for the vines. We've had plenty of rain, which will make it easier to support the vines through the warm summer. I always love the dawn of the the growing season. Everything is still perfect.
We're overdue reporting on harvest 2018 -- it was lovely. The previous year had some terrifying moments -- not just the fires, but also the "heat event" on September 1 when it became crazy hot for a few hours -- among other things, resulting in our redirecting all of the Petit Verdot into a rosé. 2018 had none of that -- a calm, long harvest, with lots of time for decisions. Many people are talking about it being a large crop, which is true -- overall yields were above average -- but the story varies by block. The block for our Brothers Vineyard Cabernet actually came in below '17. So far, we like what we're tasting in barrel -- time will tell.
Vintages are unique -- and 2018 is no exception. So far, the weather has been temperate and kind resulting in a more gradual final maturation than the past couple of years. Our harvest got underway on September 7 with a little over two and a half tons of Sauvignon Blanc from the "Sunninghill" block -- here's Scott setting an example in a suit and tie. Yesterday, we picked two tons of Merlot for rosé -- the photo shows the juice draining into the press pan. It looks like it will be another week or ten days before the serious reds start coming in.
An unusual April storm has brought several more inches of rain, so we’re worrying less about a return to full-bore drought. With a little more rain in the forecast, it looks like we’ll come out with around 75% of normal rainfall – which assumes “normal” still exists. The key thing is having a storm big enough to completely saturate the fields at least once during the rainy season – we definitely got that, so should be fine for the growing season. Spring is also the time to plant replacement vines – there’s nothing more frustrating than farming a vacant location in a vineyard. These Sauvignon Blanc replacement vines arrived Friday. They’ll be lounging under an oak tree for the next week or two to acclimatize to their new home, but they all should be in the ground before the end of the month.
Yesterday was a big day at the ranch – ranch manager Severiano Deloera and his team of master vineyardists finished pruning the Brothers’ vineyard. The Brothers is our largest and most challenging block because it’s closely spaced and “cane pruned” – a more sophisticated and difficult pruning method. One silver lining of this dry winter has been fewer rain days – Seve’s small team is on track to finish the pruning without needing to call in reinforcements, ensuring a high level of accuracy and uniformity in the work. They’ve only got two single-acre blocks to go: the Cabernet Franc and the Sauvignon Blanc. Seve always leaves the Sauvignon Blanc for last – it’s planted in the only spot on the ranch susceptible to frost and late pruning will delay budbreak, protecting the vines farther into the frost season. It looks like we'll finish pruning without a day to spare -- the first buds are just starting to crack in the earliest blocks. More good news – it’s just started raining!
We’re often amazed at the idiosyncrasies of holistic farming. When you eliminate plowing, it strengthens the ecosystem of the vineyard because the natural microbes and insects that grow above and below ground come into balance and the soil becomes a healthier place for grapes to grow. But this means it’s also a healthier place for gophers to grow, and gophers like to eat the roots of grapevines, especially young and tender grapevines. There are a lot of things people do to address gophers, ranging from traps, to explosives to poisons – none of which feel like they promote a healthy, natural field. Fortunately, farming as non-invasively as possible gives nature room to strike a balance in gophers, just as it does for microbes – in this case, leading two healthy, young coyotes to take up residence in the woods by the Brothers Vineyard. The photo is of one of them having some lunch in the vineyard on a recent sunny afternoon.
We wish it were raining here in the Napa Valley, but one positive of the delightful, balmy weather -- every day is a pruning day. Our tiny crew -- ranch manager Severiano Deloera and three trusted colleagues -- are already over half way along. There are almost 44,000 vines to be pruned and it's not good for the pruners or the vines to work in bad weather. But this year it looks like they'll be able to finish without having to call in reinforcements. There's a big upside when this happens: the small team works closely together and stops whenever someone encounters a vine raising new questions -- which happens regularly, especially when they are starting a new block. The result is an unusually high level of both quality and uniformity. These are essential to producing the highest quality grapes, particularly in the cane-pruned blocks, such as the Brothers Vineyard. In other news, many of you have heard us mention that the ranch lies about a mile north of the Pritchard Hill appellation? Here's an aerial photo showing the Lost Orchard Vineyard at the east end of the property. From there it drops steeply down to Lake Hennessey and that's Pritchard Hill on the far side at the right.