October 15, 2009: The 2009 harvest season has been full of interesting weather changes. September began with record breaking heat and for many growers got harvest off to a feverish start. Prior to the heat, Pinot Noir grapes were steadily maturing and we saw mixed vine response to the heat. At some vineyards, sugar accumulation in the fruit increased rapidly while corresponding decreases in acid levels were not seen. This gave us growers and winemakers an important decision to make; can the sugar/acid levels come back into balance in the days following the heat spike or do we need to harvest before sugar levels rise beyond standard quality parameters?
Winemaker discussions I have had can be summarized with mixed results. Overall, the Pinot Noir quality looks to be good and depending on vineyard, there is potential for some outstanding wine lots now in barrel.
Chardonnay in the Santa Maria Valley coped with the heat better in most accounts than did the Pinot Noir. I have only heard exciting reports about Chardonnay wine quality and this is no surprise seeing and tasting the fruit as it left the vineyard. The Chardonnay vines were in a better condition during and following the heat, allowing growers to hang the fruit for an extended period. The increased hang time brought the fruit back into phenologic balance, and subsequently the wines are showing great character.
The recent October rains were much more of an overall benefit than detriment to us growers because of the recent drought years and in my opinion marked the virtual end to harvest. We do still have late whites and reds in the field, but the changing weather has put all remaining varieties on the harvest list.
This exciting harvest season “in the vineyard” will most surely result in some of our most impressive and anticipated wines in the bottle.
Jim Stollberg manages vineyards for Hampton and Maverick Farming Companies in the Santa Maria Valley. He can be reached at (805)310-9322 or firstname.lastname@example.org.