As we press and barrel down the last of our red wines, a sense of the 2018 vintage profile becomes clear.
Sugars accumulated slowly over a long, cool late-summer and fall. Chemistry-wise, the most obvious stamp of the vintage was elevated acidity across the board – the high levels hung all the way through optimal sugar ripeness and flavor maturity.
The wines are intense with deeply extracted, pure fruit profiles. Finessed tannins are complemented by acid-driven freshness. A great combination of depth and energy.
The slow-ripening allowed for further lignification (browning) of the seeds and stems and slightly softer skins. Emboldened by the mature fruit, the winery team pushed the fruit a bit further than the past few vintages, ratcheting up punch downs to a total of 3 for each of the Syrah fermentations. This countered the trend towards extreme gentleness we have pursued 2012 through 2017, when we relied only on initial foot-trodding followed by pump-overs.
The result of the winemaking change can already be seen in darker, denser colors and fuller-bodied textures in the traditional reds.
Further lignification did present the option of leaving some lots 100% whole-cluster but we opted to stick with our regimen of de-stemming hill-top starter picks. The fermenting hilltop juice serves as a protective blanket for the later-picked hill-side whole-clusters. The technique enables healthy native fermentations without the creep of Volatile Acidity. Most traditional Syrah cuvees will end up between 50-75% whole-cluster as has been our recent tradition.
Creeping sugars, high acid, and lignified stems…. the perfect scenario to make deliciously fresh carbonic wines!
In early October, we had limitless options for lower-sugar Syrah in perfect condition for 100% Carbonic Sans Soufre Syrah So Hot. Depending on which lots make the cut, we should have about 750 cases of the cuvee that we debuted in 2017. We also might bottle a carbonic field blend of Mourvedre and Grenache…!
2018 might have been the most moderate August-September-October stretch since the modern-winegrowing era began in Santa Barbara County back in the 1970’s. This certainly hasn’t happened in my 10 year professional tenure here. Judging by the wines in barrel, I can only hope to experience it again.
Farming can never be perfect.
If it was truly a perfect year, what would we do for the rest of our lives? We could never top the great 2018 vintage. And to lend credibility to this blog post rather than appear to be shamelessly promoting the 2018 wines, I most note the difficulty we had this year.
July 7th blew in with scorching winds. The heat jumped well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit everywhere in the County. Friends boating off of Santa Cruz Island reported temperatures of 135 degrees Fahrenheit – and that’s out on the Pacific Ocean!
While this early-season heat doesn’t have the same immediate sugar-surge effect of a harvest-time wave, it does still do damage. Because the canopies weren’t yet filled out and shading fruit, the exposed sides of many clusters looked “burned off” –grapes looked crinkled, shriveled, and discolored by the time other healthy grapes were going through verasion.
La Cuadrilla took cleaning passes through effected blocks. We brushed off any dried raisins or worst-case, cut out wholly effected clusters. At the end of the day, we think the damage will translate only to more work, and of course, less fruit. Because of the crew’s efforts, the quality of the potentially great 2018 vintage shouldn’t be lessened.
(Photo Credit – Matt Nocas, Our Assistant Winemaker. Epic Shots of Harvest!!)