A Perfect Vintage finished before the Rain‏

Fog2Mother Nature seemed to send us a signal on Wednesday, October 8th. For over a week meteorologists forecasted rain, giving us just enough time to pick all of our red grapes off of the vine. We took it right up to the wire, finishing just before dawn on Wednesday morning.
Sunrise revealed high, dark clouds, and the morning brought with it blustery winds off of the Pacific. Scattered Showers fell in patches though out Santa Ynez Valley by mid-morning. Finally, Wednesday afternoon, Stolpman Vineyards received a 20 minute dousing.
Truth be told, the rain doesn’t really affect much, other than keeping the dust down for a day or so. A one day deluge of a few inches would certainly dilute hanging fruit, but our weather station recorded less than .15 inches of rain. This isn’t enough water to penetrate more than the surface of our topsoil, certainly not making it to our deep roots in the limestone below. Fall moisture always brings the threat of mold to vineyards, but a return to dry, windy conditions on Thursday eliminated the risk.
Rain the day we finish harvest brings home the magic of this year’s season. The dry winter forced our vines to play it safe, setting a small crop on which each vine focused its energy. The resulting ferments and wine in barrel possess the most brilliant, naturally concentrated, perfect fruit we have ever seen. This summer’s even, dry heat ensured the intensity of the fruit. The Artic flow of the Pacific did its job, fighting back the extreme heat spells that affected Southern California. We had high peak heat, but dodged the Santa Ana flow, in which the Mojave desert influence keeps the nights warm. Instead, our vines were able to relax and recharge each cool night.
For Stolpman Vineyards, the showers symbolize just how perfectly Sashi and Ruben executed this year’s vintage. When the rain suddenly beat down on the corrugated metal roof of our Lompoc Winery, the entire crush crew paused to smell the wet ground, and watch a sight we haven’t seen since early march, before bud-break. Even the most serious staff-member, associate winemaker Johnny Faulkner, couldn’t help but smile and breathe a sigh of relief. All of our fruit was safe and dry in the shelter of the cold room.
I first experienced this overwhelming satisfaction in 2009, when driving the empty fruit truck back from the winery, the first giant rain drops of a storm began to smack against the windshield. I certainly believe that California winemakers and the wine press play up rainfall too much as the sign of a weak vintage. France and Italy receive far more rain during the growing season than we do, even in spectacular vintages. None the less, we look at a year of zero inches of precipitation from bud-break to harvest as one of many positive indicators of a great year.
We still have the always late-ripening Roussanne hanging on the vine, and Sashi made John’s smile disappear when he joked, “Don’t worry John, if we get a lot more rain, we will hand sort each cluster for L’Avion and pull off every bad grape.”