BY CLAY SELKIRK
It is nearly that time of year again. With harvest creeping inexorably closer day-by-day and hour-by-hour, there are always innumerable tasks yet to be completed in the winery. It is the perpetual plight of the winemaker; juggling the desire to accomplish as much as possible with the need to properly prepare for the upcoming crush. One does not want to leave too many tasks unfinished, for as a rule, those tasks will demand their due attention at a decidedly less convenient point in the future. However, much worse than a few unaccomplished to-do items would be being caught unprepared for the arrival of the season’s first fruit. Once harvest starts, grapes rule all. They wait for no man. When ready to be plucked from their sunlight-dappled slumber, they will not be ignored. No ifs ands or buts about it, and woe be it to anyone who does not heed their call.
The 4 Hearts Vineyard
More to the point, Veraison, the physical change in color of the grape skins as they near ripeness, is well under way. A mere couple of weeks remain until the first fruit demands to be picked. At this point in the year I am spending more and more time in the vineyard monitoring the rate of fruit maturation. Meaning, I am eating a lot of grapes. Sensory perception of sugar, acid, and flavors in the skin, seeds, and pulp of the berries is my main tool for determining ripeness and optimal harvest dates. Of course, I back up my decisions on when to pick with hard numbers in the lab. These numbers (degrees brix sugar, pH, and TA) are derived from random samplings of whole cluster fruit taken from select blocks in the vineyard. I use all lab-based numbers simply as a tool to make sure I am in the right ballpark. As I taste berries in the vineyard, I am looking for grape variety character, expression, and—most importantly—balance. These elements are not something that tests in the lab can capture on their own. Thus, maybe my most important job as a winemaker is making decisions on when to pick based on what I am seeing in the vineyard.
Veraison in Loma Seca Vineyard
Where do we get our fruit?
The Kirk-Landry and Osgood Farms Vineyards, both dry-farmed, account for over 60% of the total fruit we harvest in a given year. Dave Osgood, Vineyard Manager, and his protégé Jimmy (my harvest intern from 2014) have been slaving away to provide us with the highest quality fruit possible. Of course, Dave always encourages me to take an active role in the decision-making process in the vineyard. Though I certainly defer to his vast wealth of grape-growing knowledge and wisdom, we work in concert to achieve our harvest goals. Paramount to Dave’s growing philosophy is vine health. Every step he takes in the vineyard looks to the future—considering both the development of young vines and how to produce the highest quality of fruit year-after-year. He always asks for my opinion and input, though I often wonder why he bothers. As he has informed me many times, he will listen to all suggestions I give, but he may very well ignore them.
In addition to the two vineyards mentioned above, the St. Peter of Alcantara, 4 Hearts, Loma Seca, and Cain Vineyards allow us to produce ultra premium wine from over 95% dry-farmed fruit. With the water problems facing not only our local Paso Robles area, but also California as a whole, we feel it is only prudent to promote and support low impact dry-farming methods (not to mention the increase in quality and character we have seen from the wines made from dry-farmed fruit). Rounding out our take, the Kruse and Alta Colina Vineyards provide us with amazing fruit for our Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Viognier programs. You may be thinking, “How do you keep up with all these vineyards with each boasting multiple grape varieties grown?” Well, I will tell you from experience that it is no easy task...
Dave at the Kirk-Landry Vineyards
Below is the complete list of our vineyards and varietals harvested in alphabetic order:
Alta Colina – Viognier
Cain – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Kruse – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Kirk-Landry – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec, Mourvédre, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Roussanne
Loma Seca – Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvédre, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel
Osgood Farms – Petite Sirah, Zinfandel
St. Pete of Alcantara – Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel
4 Hearts – Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel
On a final note before I go, I am happy to announce that our July bottling went off without a hitch. We bottled 1,254 cases in total of 2012 vintage Chardonnay, St. Peter of Alcantara Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. These lovely wines will now slumber in and acclimate themselves to bottle for the next few months with a planned release date of February 1st, 2016.