Vineyard Diary 10-20-12

We wrapped up a successful 2012 growing season at Shaker Ridge with a small touriga nacional harvest for our own cellar on October 15.  The vines got out of the gates slowly for the third straight year, but that’s where any similarity with the prior two vintages stopped.  A generous slug of rain in late April helped compensate, to a large extent, for what was a rather dry “wet season” in the Sierra Foothills.  The spring/summer heat came slowly at first, but what eventually emerged was a classic Foothills summer, with several stretches–including one that seemed like it might never end in the first half of August–of 100+ degree days.  While such days are not especially favorable for either grapes or humans, they provided abundant warmth and ultimately gave way to a month or more of consecutive days with highs “only” in the low 90’s.  This stretch, coupled with cool nights mostly in the low 60’s, made for superb ripening weather for local wine grapes.  Early rain also stayed away for most vineyards–with the exception of rare localized thunderstorms–and the first significant rainfall is forecast to come in 2 days (late October).  Thus, unlike last year, most fruit could be harvested ahead of rain and the various issues that that can cause in wine grapes.

At Shaker Ridge in 2012, we sold nearly 16 tons of wine grapes to 5 commercial wineries and an estimated 30 home winemakers.  We say “estimated”, because many of our home winemaker clients actually represent groups of 2-3 home winemakers that team up to buy grapes.  This was certainly the widest reach we have achieved to date.  While the high numbers of winemakers served was due in part to an otherwise tight wine grape market, we believe it also speaks to satisified clients and our willingness to serve the home winemakers who are, as we say elsewhere on our website, “serious about their craft”.  We truly cannot wait to see the results of all our clients’ efforts in the form of successful wine competition entries, healthy wine sales in the case of commercial wineries, and (last but not least) fine wine to drink and enjoy.

A noteworthy aspect of the 2012 vintage was the large influx of buyers from out-of-county that significantly pushed up prices–not so much for the more niche grapes that we sell–but for the household name varietals grown in massive quantity in the Central Valley.  The economic crisis of the previous few years, the prior reduction of planting and even net removal of wine grape acreage in the Central Valley, and the slow but steady increase in U.S. wine consumption finally brought grape supply and demand into balance.  In fact, the supply of quality grapes was actually short, and the final survey numbers for 2012 will likely show a strong increase in export of El Dorado County grapes to other locales.  For our own part, while we have always sold a portion of our grapes to out-of-county and out-of-state (Nevada) clients, this year we sold an unprecedented 70% of our grapes out-of-county.  Locally, despite the economic downturn from which we are still emerging, new wineries continue to appear at a pace that has probably outstripped the growth in local wine tourism.  This situation has made for a competitive local market for wineries and, in our view, ever-improving quality.  The net effect of all of this, in economic terms, is that out-of-county wineries effectively out-bid local wineries for the region’s grapes this year.  In short, the market has, at least for the moment, finally recognized the value proposition of El Dorado grapes.

We would like to thank all of our clients for their business and for being patient with us as we navigated the logistical challenges of another harvest season.   Though we made around 20 grape handoffs, our clients were rarely late (or too early!), a fact we really appreciate.  We were glad to have a little more time than usual to meet and speak with clients, new and old.  We are also grateful for those repeat clients who brought wine samples from prior vintages; we really value these as a special token of appreciation.

Before closing, we’re excited to report the appearance of a second commercial touriga wine made from Shaker Ridge grapes, a 2010 touriga from Bumgarner Wines.  Brian Bumgarner is an extremely talented winemaker who, along with his wife Jennifer, runs a tasting room in the Apple Hill/Camino area of El Dorado county.  The Bumgarner Winery had a special coming-out party for the touriga at their tasting room on September 28th, and the wine did not disappoint.

The first commercial wine made out of our touriga, the 2009 from Obscurity Cellars, actually just made its re-appearance recently at the Oakstone 2.0 winery.   The latter opened a cozy new tasting room in Fair Play at the site of Obscurity Cellars’ winery, replacing the Oakstone tasting room devastated by fire in July.  The 2009 Obscurity touriga remains an outstanding wine and made a strong showing in a blinded horizontal tasting of 2009 tourigas that we recently hosted.

Thank you again for a great 2012, and we’ll see you next season….

Andy & Elizabeth