Thus far it appears that the 2018 vintage in Ballard Canyon will be defined by two factors:
- March 20-22 rain: 4.5 inches of rain fell on Stolpman Vineyards over three days in late March, doubling the amount of winter rainfall we had previously received. Buds had begun to bulge towards breaking out of dormancy, but the rain put the vines back to sleep for another 2-3 weeks, delaying the growing season.
- Absence of Harvest-time heat spikes: a cool, moderate August and September further extended the growing season. The steady weather allowed the vines to gradually build sweetness and flavor. The slow tick tock of ripening has become easily predictable. Vintners don’t need to rush to harvest crops before and after rapid heat-spike sugar accumulation.
A Late Season
Following 6 early seasons 2012 through 2017, October 2018 will become the focus month of harvest rather than August and September. This harkens back to late vintages like 2006, 2010, and 2011. In Santa Barbara County, we often prefer late seasons because we aren’t threatened by early winter rains nearly as much as those growing regions further north. Our Southern latitude also gives us stronger late-season sun to continue to ripen well into the fall.
The Timing of Heat
Most residents of Southern California and the Central Coast assume that August is the hottest month of the year. June Gloom is long gone, and folks flock to the beach during short, intense late summer heat waves.
However, in compiling two decades of weather data for our Ballard Canyon AVA petition, we found that July is significantly hotter than any other month of the year. And in July of 2018, no one could argue with the statistics. Peak heat was near or above 90 the entire month, led off with a more powerful heat surge on July 7th.
Since July, it seems we got the heat out of the way and no heat waves are forecasted into October. As we get through September and early October, the chances of a serious heat events rapidly diminish. The absence of heat waves has also allowed the canopies to remain healthy and green in order to continue their march towards perfection. Intense heat not only accelerates sugar accumulation (often through dehydration) but it also will burn the canopy, inhibiting recovery.
With heavy Syrah harvesting forecasted for mid October and then Grenache, Mourvedre and Roussanne well into November, we will surely turn our attention from heat spikes back to the chance of rain fronts. As always, we hope for plenty of winter rain, just after we finish picking!