Well, we asked for it. We’ve been praying to the heat (and sun) gods all summer long. And we were hit hard this week. In a 24-hour period we saw upwards of a 60 degree swing in temperatures. Most people were commenting on the heat and how good it was for the vines. But the reality is so much worse. I was in the vineyards today. I didn’t take any pictures. I felt that whatever pictures I took of the grapes wouldn’t bring to life the real situation.
The shock that the vines dealt with is akin to a Californian going to the heart of Alaska in the dead of Winter. A complete shock. This year, the grapes were hanging out in a cool 68-75 degree summer just coming along like the turtle in that famous race. Yes, everything was slow and late, but everything was still coming along. And then BAM! 110-plus degrees in some areas. That in itself is quite a swing, but many grape growers had recently cut away leaves around the grapes to allow them to receive more sun. This would help them ripen faster. While this is / was a good idea, the grapes were venerable to the sun should we get the kind of heat wave that we did.
Some of this year’s crop was ruined this week. It’s true. It’s quite sad, really. I’m not being sensational. I haven’t been this whole growing season. If anything, I’ve been promoting what a great year this could be. I think the general media has been making this year a bigger deal than it has been. The wines produced from 2010 could yield lower alcohols, higher acids and longer hang times. All qualities that can lead to incredible wines. This is also the kind of year that sets aside true winemakers from amateurs. It takes skill and talent to make great wine in difficult years.
Anyway, back to what happened this week. That exposed fruit? Well, a lot of it was burned. Literally burned from the scorching sun. More so on the side that received the afternoon sun, but even some of the morning sides were affected. What happens to those grapes? They basically turn into raisins.
There are still a couple of options though. The easiest of those is to leave everything the way it is and pick around the fruit when it’s ripe. The other more challenging in terms of labor and cost is to go through the vineyards and literally pluck the burned berries off the individual clusters. It’s a ton of work. No pun intended. The third and least desirable option is to pick the burned fruit with all the other fruit. This can create off flavors in the wine. Anytime you pick fruit that is over or under developed, it can seriously affect the finished product.
If I owned a vineyard, I would put all my money on removing the berries, but timing is everything. When do you start removing? Well, like all things in grape growing and winemaking it depends, but it’s best to leave them on the vines for now in case we get another heat wave. Should that happen, the already burned grapes (raisins) will protect the berries that are directly behind it.
Despite what I’ve been reading, I know what I’ve seen with my eyes this year and we have an amazing amount of fruit on the vines. If there was ever a year that some of the grapes had to go through this “burn”, this is at least a year that there was an abundance of grapes.
I’ll leave you with one last thought. We’re pretty lucky in California. In the past 10 plus years, we haven’t had a bad vintage. Sure, we’ve had challenging ones, but we haven’t seen any total crop loss in any area. In fact, I’m not sure we’ve seen a total crop loss anywhere in California since phylloxera ran wild. Anyway, the last year we had a lot of grapes get burned was 2004. I’m not sure how closely you follow California winemaking, but 2004 tuned out to be a phenomenal and outstanding year.
So, until I see (and taste) differently, I’m still thinking this year is going to be great. Maybe I’m just caught up in the romance of the finished product, but I don’t think so.