Vineyard Diary 9-19-14

The 2014 vineyard year at Shaker Ridge is coming to a rapid close, with a final small harvest of touriga on Sept. 24 to be the finale.  Nothing about the weather was able to change the course of an “early” year beginning with early budburst in March, as it proved to be a relentlessly hot Foothills summer.  We did get some relief in August at least from the triple-digit runs, as it stayed predominantly in the low to mid-90’s (daytime highs) and about 30 degrees cooler at night.  We only recently revisited the 100’s again in a string of days in mid-September, fortunately after the vast majority of our fruit was harvested.  It is extremely dry here at this time of year, as there is little in the way of natural moisture to provide humidity and of course no rain, and this together with even a little breeze can dehydrate grapes, particularly a thin-skinned variety like barbera.  So, though the home stretch was not the endless string of perfect low-90 degree days that we saw in the widely acclaimed 2012 vintage, it did appear to us to be another very good vintage with no difficulty fully ripening fruit.

In 2014, we were pleased to provide wine grapes to 5 commercial wineries and about 30 home winemakers.  Continuing the trend of recent years, fully 95% of our fruit went outside of El Dorado County, mainly to other counties in Northern California and a little to clients in Nevada.  The economics of this trend is straightforward:  the premium wine grapes of El Dorado are a good value proposition for wineries and serious winemakers outside the area, and they are willing and able to pay more to access them than in-county interests.

As always, we were happy to keep a healthy number of home winemakers in the mix, and we always enjoy their enthusiasm and reliability.  Particularly noteworthy in this regard, the harvest of our “Quinta” field of Portugese varietals historically early on September 13 was a big success and we believe provided top-quality wine grapes (see recent vineyard gallery posting for some pictures) to 12 home winemaker “shareholders”, including ourselves.  The shareholders joined us for a walk of the Quinta and discussion a few weeks before harvest, and we expect to see most of their “shares” turned into some outstanding port-style wines.  We’re pretty sure there was a not-so-stealth but non-paying 13th shareholder:  a black bear that visits us regularly in August and September at night, scrunching down the vineyard fence in a few places and stripping grape clusters.  However, we find the bear to be less wasteful of grapes (usually stripping whole clusters) than birds, and we couldn’t knock his/her fine taste, exclusively going for our personal favorite of the Quinta grapes, touriga nacional.

Our domestic well threw us many hints that it was at its limits in the late summer period, though we were, in the end, able to carry our whole vineyard.  However, beyond a doubt, if we do not get solid rainfall this winter, we will choose not to cultivate part of our vineyard next year to conserve water for irrigation of the balance.  We hope, as just about everyone does, that the drought will loosen its grip in California beginning in a few weeks.  The harvest–including pre-harvest activities like regular grape chemistry sampling and an ever-increasing deployment of bird netting–came so early this year that there was no opportunity for a pre-harvest escape to a cool coastal climate.  As such, we are particularly looking forward to the return of some clouds and moisture.  At the moment, the only clouds in sight are smoke-induced clouds from the massive and growing “King Fire” to our northeast.

We thank all of our clients for their support this year and truly hope to see some superb wines from the 2014 grapes.  We expect to post pricing and availability of 2015 vintage grapes by the end of January, though earlier commitments will be considered on a case-by-case basis.  We know our winemakers’ work has just begun, but we are looking forward to our off-season, rain, and the pause that refreshes…

“Every man at first sets forth the good wine, and when they have drunk freely, then that which is poorer.  But thou hast kept the good wine until now.” -John 2: 10