Harvest is always an adventure, and 2020 did not disappoint. Despite the challenges of COVID and the wildfires that ravaged northern California this late summer, we produced some truly delicious wines. In all honesty, it's too early to really tell, but initial assessments look very promising. Harvest got off to a wild start on August 18th with our Verdelho and was quickly followed by Bastardo/Trousseau, Touriga Nacional Rose, and Zinfandel. We picked almost all our Zinfandel in August – more than any previous year, and then quickly jumped into our Tempranillo.
There were a few key factors that led to the early and rapid pace to this year’s harvest. First, the crop across all our vineyards was incredibly light. Our St. Amant vineyard in Amador County was off 30% from last year and averaged 2.86 tons/acre across the entire vineyard. These are not money-making yields, but the quality and concentration in some of the finished wines is incredible. Unfortunately, there will not be a lot of wine to sell from 2020.
Secondly, we had three heat waves throughout harvest that accelerated ripening. The mid-August heat wave that saw a week of triple digit temperatures across California quickly ripened our early varieties. This was particularly impactful due to the light crop. Our Mohr-Fry Ranch and Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel saw brix jump nearly 4 degrees in one week. Those old vineyards also only yielded about 2.5 tons/acre. As resilient as these old vines might be, I’ve found them particularly susceptible to harvest stress (heat), and typically don’t respond as quickly to that stress. These conditions can lead to excessive dehydration and disease (rot). And was one of the reasons we moved quickly to get our grapes harvested this year, which resulted in lighter alcohol and a fresher style in our 2020 Zins.
Finally, the wildfires, smoke and extended weeks of poor air quality had a profound impact on much of California. Fortunately, Lodi and the Sierra Foothills were far enough removed from a direct impact that it appears to have had a minimal impact on our wines. This is new territory for much of California wine and the science on smoke in vineyards is not very clear, and there is still much to learn. And while it created a great deal of stress throughout harvest, we feel grateful that our vineyards and wines were not impacted. Our heart to goes out to our industry colleagues who weren’t so lucky – who were unable to harvest their vineyards or in some cases saw their wineries and homes burn.
As much as we like to make analogies to cooking and winemaking, they can be profoundly different. 2020 once again reminded us how little control we have over Mother Nature, and that one of the keys to success is following your intuition and gut when making wines. Reading the vineyard, the season, and the unfinished wines is often difficult to define, but key to consistently making compelling wines. And working with the same vineyards, year after year, decade after decade, gives us the wisdom to guide those wines.
We look forward to sharing the 2020 wines in the years to come.