Harvest is a remarkable time of the year. It’s the reward for all our hard work in the vineyard.
But the work isn’t over.
We harvest our grapes and shepherd them through a metamorphosis from raw fruit into bottles of wine that we can confidently deem worthy of our labels.
2017 has been a wild ride so far. I’ll save my final thoughts for a later post, but here are the cliffs notes to date:
The season began with an unseasonably warm March. I recall pruning Chardonnay in mid-March and the vines were bleeding sap with every cut. This is worrisome because the de-acclimated vines are at heightened risk of damage should we experience a cold snap. Fortunately, the weather mellowed out in April and bud-break was right about on average: April 14th in the Chardonnay block.
Then we had a patchy frost event on the morning of May 9th that moderately reduced our crop in Muscat. The Muscat block is always at the greatest risk because it buds out early. Add to this that it’s situated on our lowest site and cold air drains downhill. Fortunately, damage was minimal overall and we were off to the races with what is turning out to be a record crop.
Because things were wet early in the season, we were particularly diligent with our canopy management. Sun and wind are nature's antibiotics.
August, too, was cooler and wetter than usual. On September 2nd (my birthday), I recall being fairly pessimistic about the vintage. The only wish I made on my 30th birthday was for some dry weather for the vineyard! And so far, so good!
September has been exceptionally good to us. The vines are clean and healthy and the grapes are vibrant and flavorful. High-pressure systems shielded us from Irma and Jose and we’ve been warm and dry in the last days of summer.
At this point, the white grapes are in the winery and the table is set for reds to finish ripening in the field.
The whites are perfect. Harvest began with a bang on September 10th. Chardonnay, Albarino, Pinot Gris, Viognier all came in heavier than typical. To be exact, 42 tons of white grapes from nine Maryland vineyards! The theme of this season's crop is high yields, high natural acidity, low pH’s and moderate sugar levels. This equates to a bounty of bright, fresh whites to be bottled next spring. The fermentations are ticking away wildly and the aromas are vibrant, acidity is high and alcohol is low… Like I said, perfect!
We continue to be diligent with our chores in the vineyard as we monitor the physiological ripeness of our red grapes to determine the optimal time to pick. Sure, we track sugars and acidity – but we do much more than that – we visually inspect the vineyard, we kick the vine's trunk and see if berries drop to the ground, we taste the fruit, chew the seeds, note the texture of the pulp and toughness of the skins; we assess the flavor development and aroma and pontificate about the wine to come.
Merlot, Malbec, and Syrah will be picked any day now. I suspect Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are 2-3 weeks out. Overall, we're projecting 40+ tons of red grapes from ten Maryland vineyards.
2017 has the early makings of an astonishing year at Old Westminster.
The process of making great wine is simple: grow ripe, flavorful grapes and shepherd them carefully through fermentation, aging, and bottling. That's it.
But as simple as it is, it's certainly not easy. At the end of the day, we're farmers. We battle weather, fungi, insects, and wildlife. We are tireless because we know a great bottle of wine reflects its maker's hard work and creativity.
We look forward to sharing the results with you in due time.
See y’all soon.