As summer comes to an end, a winemaker’s thoughts turn to the upcoming harvest. This year, the harvest is FAST approaching and I may have gotten a severe case of whiplash as I’ve had to react to the disappointment to not getting grapes from my usual vineyards. Agility has been the name of the game as I’ve searched for new vineyards to replace the grapes and conceived new wines to replace those that we won’t be able to make this year. So sit back and I’ll tell you a tale of the upcoming harvest….
The disappointment actually began earlier this spring with the South American harvest. Our 2013 Malbec “Two Valleys” has been a very popular wine this summer as the perfect pairing with grilled steak, lamb, and burgers. In 2013, we sourced our malbec grapes from the Curico and Colchagua Valleys in central Chile. Excellent vineyards, but in 2014 the opportunity arose to source malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina, home to some of the best Malbec in the world. I just finished planning the 2014 Malbec blend and I can confidently say that you will not be disappointed! Based on the 2014 vintage, I intended to return to Argentina in 2015. My grower was ecstatic as the season progressed and the grapes ripened, but disaster struck a mere 3 days before harvest in the form of a tremendous hail storm. In a few hours, the work of an entire year was lost as the vineyard was literally stripped to the vines. After a hurried search for nearby vineyards who escaped the hail storm, my contacts were not pleased with the grape quality, so we returned to Chile for malbec.
As the Northern Hemisphere growing season progressed, problem signs quickly arose. In New England, my primary vineyard owners watched as vines failed to leaf out after the punishingly cold winter. More than 10 feet of snow and lengthy spells of sub-zero temperatures proved too much and more than 30% of the vineyard died. What survived was greeted by a long cool, rainy spring that prevented grape clusters from forming. Summer turned obligingly dry and warm, but the damage was done and I got a phone call in August informing me that they would not even harvest enough grapes for themselves, let alone have chardonnay or pinot noir grapes for sale.
On the West Coast, vineyards battled drought. On the surface, drought is good for grapes, resulting in smaller berries and concentrated flavors. However, it also means reduced yields and thus, less wine production. That has resulted in wineries frantically looking for additional grape sources and bidding wars for what little grapes are actually available on the free market. So it was not too surprising when we learned that our vineyard sources in Washington elected to sell our grapes to more nearby buyers instead of shipping cross-country.
So what does this all mean?
Well, it means that our grapes this fall will be very California-centric. We will still get some grapes from Rhode Island to make our famous Revolution Road Red blend, but we will not be able to make our crowd favorite Rosé of Pinot Noir nor our unoaked Chardonnay.
It means that we are going to get creative to find potential replacements. I have found a very local source for grapes to make our first sparkling wine, and there will be a rosé wine. I will not let the cat completely out of the bag at this point, but simply urge you to stay tuned for more details!
Harvest in California is also coming extremely fast due to the summer heat. Normally, my grape varietals tend to arrive over a period of several weeks. This year, they are ALL arriving on a SINGLE day. The truck is scheduled to arrive on Saturday, September 26 with almost 4 tons of grapes.
It will be a busy day….