Harvest 2015 Part II: The Fog
Sheldrake Point winemaker Dave Breeden introduced our review of Harvest 2015 with a reminder of how lovely our growing season was right up through the start of harvest. We shared similar expectations, and some surprises.
Yes, the quantity of fruit at the beginning of harvest was already lower due to vine mortality from the past two winters. The dry 2015 season also kept berry size down. Both of those factors prepared me for less fruit coming in than expected as we began picking in mid-September, but the quality was really good and that weather was certainly beautiful.
In fact, the whole of the growing season was marked by a weather pattern of a string of sunny days followed by one rainy day in a 7-10 day span. Weather like that is great for our vineyard, keeping down disease pressure and, in turn, reducing the need to sort the fruit at harvest.
As that sunny, warm, dry pattern continued into mid-September, the fruit kept ripening quickly and didn’t slow down, reflecting a lot of change between samplings. Then, that weather pattern changed.
Harvest 2015 Part II: The Fog
Every year, the goal of the vineyard crew is to grow perfect, disease-free fruit, and to get it to an ideal harvest date. The later half of September was warm, but nights were foggy. And it was the fog, plus eight whole inches of rain at the end of September and the first part of October, that spelled trouble.
The fog—literally moisture hanging in the air—encouraged the growth of botrytis on the Riesling. Though the September nights were cool on Sheldrake Point, the temperatures were not cool enough to stop the rot from forming on the thinner skinned Riesling; we went from perfect Riesling grapes to losing 10-15% to disease. Dave Breeden, our winemaker, talked in his Harvest 2015 post about what that means for our portfolio.
A farmer is wise to diversify crops to reduce risk, and our vineyard is no different. Our Cabernet Franc grapes (which we use to make our Dry Rosé) have thicker skin and tighter clusters, and were not bothered by the fog and moist conditions.
In an ideal season, the fruit ripens and is picked exactly when it should be. Weather during harvest would be marked by 70 degree sunny days followed by dry nights down in the 40’s. This happened in 2013, a season of exceptional growth and quality, and the year we brought in a record 250 tons.
Harvest 2015 was completed within the first ten days of November— early! It would not be unusual for us to have Riesling out on the vine until Thanksgiving. This year, we don’t have fruit to leave out to risk for wines we may want, but we got in what we need.
A silver lining may be that November weather has been kind while the vineyard crew got a head start at cutting lower canes and hilling up. We also won’t be picking grapes for ice wine, but there is always plenty to do around the vineyard.
As a vineyard manager talking about vintage year, it calls to my mind memories of sun, rain, sometimes snow and ice, and always that idea of doing everything we could as a crew to bring in the fruit that will make great wine.
After farming this vineyard for sixteen growing seasons, I’ve learned to not be surprised by Mother Nature. Harvest 2015 is another set of lessons that makes Sheldrake Point wine that much more precious, and makes us better as a winery.