2016: The Tale of Two Vintages

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In early September, the 2016 Santa Barbara County vintage appeared to be a moderate one.  The grapes picked then will turn into bright, fresh wines with high acids.  Then, a moderate offshore heat-spike hit the weekend of September 17, followed by a slightly more pronounced heat-spike the very next weekend.

The vintage can now be clearly divided in half: grapes harvested before heat (BH) and after heat (AH).  The later-picked AH fruit came in with higher sugars, softer skins, and lower acids – translating to richer, lusher, opulent wines with more melted tannins.

At Stolpman, our earlier-ripening grapes weren’t effected at all:  Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Trousseau, Carbonic Sangiovese, Rose were all harvested BH prior to the late September heat events.  Syrah, on the other hand, will run the continuum of blocks picked, BH, the week in between, and AH.

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SYRAH

Originals Syrah: The oldest vines on the vineyard carry a lower yield and ripen on the early side.  The majority of Originals Syrah was picked BH and the week in between spikes.  The wine will carry vibrant red-hued fruit, serious tannin, and savory Syrah character.  Post concrete fermentation, the free-run wine will likely be aged longer in neutral oak barrels to allow the youthful character to integrate and flesh out.  The wine will be a serious, nuanced Syrah.

Ruben’s Block Syrah: The earliest ripening 6,000 vine per acre Syrah in the vineyard, Ruben’s Block ripens first every year.  We picked about 2/3 of Ruben’s Block BH, but then waited to pick the lower section until the night of Sunday September 18, on the heels of the first heat wave.  We will wait to taste to see if we blend the latter component into the more classic Ruben’s Block early pick.  If we love the two lots blended, this could prompt a new approach to harvesting Ruben’s Block.

Hilltops Syrah and Angeli: Because these wines are our richer, lusher cuvees, one might assume they are picked later.  However, because both are selected from rocky ridgelines, the vines’ light fruit load and sun exposure allow for early ripening.  Hilltops comes from 3,000 vine per acre high density vineyards where per-vine yield is even lower than traditional vineyards.  We source Angeli from own-rooted vines that also ripen earlier without the impediment of grafted roots.  We began harvesting the ripest portions of each section BH and then dove into the remaining blocks at optimal ripeness, between heat spikes.

Estate Grown Syrah: We harvest grapes for Estate Syrah all over the property, at varying elevations, vine densities, and exposures.  Estate Syrah will most likely be a representative blend of BH and AH harvest dates.  Our earliest picks came from young, own-rooted vines that, now fermented dry, show brilliant red fruit purity.   Blocks picked AH show much softer tannin and more blue, purple, and black fruit.  The only small lot of Syrah fruit left hanging into October is destined for Estate Syrah

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LA CROCE

The Syrah in the La Croce high density block always lags behind the Hilltops Syrah block by a week or two as it rests on hillsides.  Situated on the ridgeline, the later-ripening Sangiovese caught up to the adjacent Syrah via the heat waves.  We harvested La Croce entirely AH, the night of September 30.  While it will be a full-bodied, opulent vintage, the wine shouldn’t be over the top.

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SANGIOVESE

The later ripening varietal ripened through the heat waves. Both Estate Sangiovese and Sangio degli Angeli are destined for early October harvest dates.  The wines will be ripe and rich.

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GRENACHE

The latest ripening red varietal on the vineyard, we picked only the most mature block of Grenache the week in between heat waves, leaving the rest on the vine.  We are careful to wait for the grapes’ skin tannin to mellow prior to picking, otherwise the wine will show an austere profile for the first couple years in bottle.

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ROUSSANNE

All of our Roussanne canopies appear verdantly green, indicating a couple weeks of continued sugar accumulation post heat.  The fruit in the two older blocks have tanned to a dark gold, almost amber hue.  Because we pulled leaves away from the fruit weeks ago, the intense sun worked its magic.  Caught up in the deluge of our red harvest, we waited to hand-rotate each cluster until the first week of October.  Hopefully, the vines and the weather will cooperate and each cluster will spend two full weeks rotated for an even tan at harvest!