Still Sun v. Late Blustery Wind
Throughout May, night time temperatures dip into the low forties. Well before 9am the fog burns off. Then, for a fleeting moment, mid-morning on the vineyard defines perfection: seventy degrees and an ocean breeze. Around noon that breeze whips into a fury – first in gusts and then filling in to become a wall of constant arctic invasion.
On the steep hills of Ballard Canyon, this daily fluctuation creates gaping disparities in vine growth.
East v. West
Not only are the Eastern faces sheltered from the afternoon wind, they also face the sun for those short hours of morning stillness. Regardless of the varietal, these vines’ clusters are largely set and the canopies approach our top training wire.
The Western sides are shadowed from the morning sun, and by the time Earth rotates enough for direct exposure, the wind violently rips through the vines. Not only are most of the grapes not set, Ruben fears that many of the delicate flowers have blown off. The canopies appear stunted, and the clusters will likely have missing grapes from wind shatter.
This weather pattern is why we are here. Night time lows to keep acid high and fruit profiles fresh. Fog for a bit of moisture to keep our clay topsoil dense and cold. Just a quick hit of intense heat to ripen Syrah followed by cold wind to blow the leaves around, eliminating the need for irrigation.
But this May, the wind feels more violent and arrives earlier in the day. Coinciding with the vines delicate spring state, the weather has already significantly delayed vines in west-facing hillsides.
Ruben and La Cuadrilla are accustomed to nature’s curve balls. Adapting to vintage variation defines great vintners and winemakers. The decision to break from normal routine and try something new separates the men from the boys, the wolves from the sheep.
For the past three years, we’ve had it easy. Moderate weather meant more uniform maturity throughout the vineyard. A mild March and April led us to believe we would enjoy yet another warm, moderate year. But the past weeks’ weather and the long term forecast dictate that La Cuadrilla will need to micro-pick Eastern, Hilltop, and Western micro-blocks separately, in that order, perhaps leaving up to two weeks in between.
It’s far too early to know the potential quality of the 2015 vintage. Prior to May, the year looked to be another early one. May’s delay could allow for longer hang-time and further developed flavor. Reduced yields from shatter could mean that what grapes do set will possess more concentrated flavor. As always, it’s quality v. quantity in the vineyard. The one debate we will surely have in 2015: what do we like better, East v. West?