Because of the even-moderate heat and drought conditions, we will begin picking Syrah in late August, a record early harvest. Previously, we have started Syrah harvest with Ruben’s block as early as the first week of September. On average we forecast to pick two weeks earlier than any past vintage.
P H E N O L I C R I P E N E S S ? C O M P L E X I T Y ?
The question I receive most is whether or not the “early harvest” will allow enough time for the vine to generate nuanced flavor and phenolic ripeness rather than merely sugar. The misnomer here is “early harvest”. The more accurate term is “early growing season” as everything this year happened early.
Buds broke 2 weeks early, and eager to get growing in the dry conditions, bloomed 3 weeks earlier than normal. Harvest will follow suit, so the growing season is not any shorter, rather, everything shifted forward this year.
Despite the lack of water, the canopy is greener than normal for this level of ripeness, as we monitor Syrah passing 20 brix. The dry farmed vines seemed to dig in earlier this year and have more fight left in them. The healthy green leaves continue to pump flavor into the fruit while increasing sugar content 1 brix per week.
I taste a beautiful, crisp profile, even while sampling mid-day so in short, I’m not worried about ill-effects of the earlier season. Because of the growing conditions, 2014 will certainly be a rich, opulent vintage.
A C I D I T Y ?
Perhaps the most interesting weather phenomenon this year is the moderate night-time temperatures. We normally rely on cold nights in the 50s to retain high acids. Because of the cold temperatures, Ballard Canyon Syrah skins always arrive to the winery thicker than other areas of the world, after spending the season in intense sunlight by day, and insulating from the cold by night. The 2014 tannin profile should be a bit more supple and fine-grained. Frankly, acids won’t be quite as high as normal, lending further to the opulent profile of the vintage.
The one constant that doesn’t change is our Limestone, so Stolpman wines will remain bright and fresh with still-balancing acidity.
I R R I G A T I O N
Ruben held to his guns and let the mature vines fight without any irrigation. Allowing the vines to regulate themselves results in the gradual ripening we now monitor. Ruben reports that other vineyards that continue to irrigate now see spikes of 3-4 brix per week. It is these vineyards that will have a tough time achieving phenolic maturity and balancing acidity. Neighbors like Jonata Vineyard cut irrigation at set, and should deliver a great vintage alongside Stolpman.
D A N G E R
In Santa Barbara County, the typically late harvest gives the fruit plenty of time to gradually ripen on vine. However, picking Syrah in October also means that on years when we are affected by the late-summer Santa Ana weather pattern, vines have a month or so to recover from the intense heat. A late August or early September Santa Ana flow could throw a major curve ball into our early harvest plans this year. If the weather pattern reverses, causing influence from the Mojave Desert to the east, baking day-time temperatures and warm nights will cause sugars to spike. In years past, when we’ve been hit by Santa Anas, the grapes are nowhere near ripe and the vines bounced back from the heat trauma, sometimes even reversing Brix accumulation a hair as the vines rehydrate themselves with the last bit of contained moisture. With an unprecedented early year, we will most likely have to harvest during a Santa Ana event. If this does happen, it will certainly be a defining factor of the vintage. While I too want Labor Day beach weather, my fingers are crossed it won’t get too hot!
V A M O S A M E X I C O
For the first time since 1994, Ruben could be done with harvest by the end of October. I asked him if he will immediately head back to his family home in Jalisco. He responded, “No, I think we will take a real vacation and fly to Cabo San Lucas before going to see my family.”