A Pattern Emerged: Odd Numbered Vintages v. Even Numbered
This decade’s vintage variation revolves around subtle differences in temperature and timing. Early season wind and cooler weather in 2011, 2013 and 2015 led to lower yields. Vines focused their energy on ripening only a few small clusters each. Wines from the odd-numbered vintages also carried the stamp of extreme diurnal shifts: short periods of warmth mid-day followed by precipitous drops of over 40 F at nightfall. Those cold nights preserved acid levels in the tiny grapes. Both weather factors combined for nervy, bright wines.
More moderate weather in the even numbered vintages, 2012, 2014, 2016 – let to plush, rounded, supple wines. Odd numbered vintages carry more red hues while the even numbered vintages ooze darker, denser notes.
Coming into this harvest, after an exceptionally mild growing season, I would have bet 2017 would break the pattern, and give us a lush, round, inky vintage rather than the tight and bright profile of the odd numbered years.
And then a heat spike arrived on Labor Day Weekend….
What a difference two weeks makes!
In 2016, an intense heat spike hit September 17th. The vines had ripened more quickly than in 2017 and we had picked almost all of our Syrah blocks prior to the change in weather pattern. This year, we had picked virtually no Syrah when temperatures soared above 100 F.
Most years in Ballard Canyon, heat spikes influence the flavor profile of our wine over any other element Mother Nature throws at us. Knock on wood, we don’t suffer from summer-time rain, hail, or mold-inducing humidity. While we are accustomed to these short, intense Santa Ana flows of hot air blowing from the desert to our east, we never want to pick grapes during, or just after them.
It turned out to be a blessing that the heat came early in 2017, as almost all of our red grapes had previously been hanging in the 18-21 brix range (generally we pick Syrah at 24+ brix). The heat brought a surge in sugar but then the vines had the chance to recover and relapse into steady, even ripening. The vines still had plenty of energy and rather than crashing and going dormant during the hot weather, they continued to photosynthesize afterwards.
While in 2016 we were thankful to have beaten the heat, 2017 turned out to be the opposite, and the heat came early enough for the vines to recover. If sugars had already been approaching our picking window, the grapes would have immediately become over-ripe and most likely a bit dehydrated.
2017 Harvest Recap
Thus far it has been a fairly straight-forward harvest and we are especially pleased to taste slow, steady ripening in the remaining Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Grenache, and Roussanne. Below is the order of 2017 harvesting by varietal and date.
August 17th: Trousseau Pet’Nat
August 17 through September 4: Sauvignon Blanc
August 24: Trousseau
August 29-August 31: Viognier
August 30-September 7: Carbonic Sangiovese
August 30-Continuing Syrah
September 1-September 7: Chenin Blanc
September 5: Chardonnay
September 7-15 Grenache Rose
September 12-Continuing Sangiovese
September 14- October 3: Petite Sirah
September 27 – October 2: Mourvedre
October 4 – October 10: Grenache
October 4 – Nov 6: Roussanne
It’s tough to pinpoint the final character of the vintage at this early stage, but it is clear that the wines will be plusher and lusher than the odd-numbered vintages of late. If red harvest hadn’t been accelerated by the Labor Day heat there would be no question that the wines would show rounded opulence.
In 2017, there is simply too much meat for journalists to sink their teeth into: From 10 feet of rain in Napa Valley to the unprecedentedly horrific fires that ravaged Northern California at the tail end of harvest. And while our late-ripening Rhone-focused vineyard was spared from the heat wave, earlier ripening varietals, like Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, might have been dramatically effected – dependent on winemaker’s picking decisions.