Last month I spent some time in my home state of Michigan. I was gone for three weeks in all: some vacation, some work. During that time, my colleagues back here reported the first signs of veraison: a very exciting time in wine world.
I might as well have been gone for a year. It feels like everything has changed while I was away. The Cabernet near the winery is just about 100% colored up. The Chardonnay in front of the winery tastes sweet. I didn’t pull out my refractometer, but it’s probably 14° Brix or so. Or, in English: harvest is right around the corner.
Winemakers are gamblers, to be sure. For one, in the pursuit of excellence we have to bet on the outcome of certain things we know to be risky. Sometimes I feel like I’m really treading on the proverbial razor’s edge, either pushing my luck that the weather will hold out, or pushing my luck on fermentation strategies. We’re certainly willing to place bets on when the fruit is going to come in. There’s usually a winery pool going for many of the harvest statistics: first grapes, biggest day, total tons in the winery.
Right now, I’m going out on a limb to say that we will see our first grapes in the winery on Tuesday, August 28th. There’s some Sauvignon Blanc out there that’s testing even sweeter than the Chardonnay I mentioned. This fruit is going to move pretty fast with the 95 degree days we have predicted in this area through the weekend.
After the Sauvignon Blanc, the Chardonnay will be right behind, and a lot of the Pinot is nearly 100% colored. These should start coming in around Labor Day weekend. We never know if we will get Labor Day off in wine country. More often than not, we are receiving grapes straight through the weekend, and then working on the juice or must through the holiday. This year looks like it will be one of those.
One thing we’re not too willing to go out on a limb to do is tout the eventual quality of the vintage. However, with the necessary grand gestures of knocking firmly on wooden surfaces, I will admit that things are looking pretty darn good out there. In Sonoma County and Napa County, many people are feeling really optimistic about the possibility of a great vintage.
But there’s a lot of “ifs” that still need to happen for 2012 to be one for the record books: If the warm summer weather continues into September, we’re probably looking at a great one, if that heat is not too excessive where we get violent heat waves that destroy a lot of crop, like in 2010, if the rains hold off until late in October so that our latest-ripening grapes can achieve that perfect ripeness…
You see what I mean. There’s a lot that can happen between now and a phenomenal vintage. We may be gamblers, but we’re also superstitious. Nobody wants to jinx a good thing. Ask me how it’s going long about October 15th and I may be willing to make some real “predictions.”