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By September 13, 2018 0 Comments Read More →

Harvest 2018 Begins in Paso Robles Wine Country

Cooler temperatures and delayed grape picking could spell richer flavors for vintage 2018.

Sept. 13, 2018 (Paso Robles, Calif.) – Solterra Strategies, a boutique public relations firm representing wineries in California’s Central Coast, is pleased to share this update from several of its Paso winery clients now that Harvest 2018 has officially begun. 

Overall, due to a late bud-break in spring, coupled with a long heat wave in July and early August (which slows the vines), harvest is roughly two weeks later than normal in Paso, and throughout the Central Coast.

But, the delay may prove a boon, and has winemakers excited about vintage 2018. That’s because the current, exceptionally cool end-of-summer temperatures means most grapes will likely see lengthier hang-times, allowing richer flavors and colors to develop.

Also of note: several wineries in Paso Robles this year experimented with shade cloth in the vineyards. The goal of draping vines with mesh cloth is to protect ripening grapes from too much direct sun. Many are reporting the technique a success, as you’ll see below.

The answers that follow are direct quotes from the winemakers; feel free to use them as written.

If you want to speak directly to a winemaker we can arrange interviews. If you have a specific question you’d like to ask the winemakers, please send and we’ll get back to you.

As the harvest season continues you can expect updates. 

Please be in touch with any further questions.

Stacie Jacob, sjacob@solterrastrategies.com

Mike Dawson, mike@solterrastrategies.com

Q: When did your harvest begin?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:

We picked Grenache Blanc on Aug. 30 for our new sparkling wine. After that, we picked our Viognier, the latest we’ve begun picking our whites since 2011. Reds are looking closer to mid-to-late September.

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula Winery:

We started harvest on Aug. 21, with some Viognier. Syrah will be next but it’s still possibly a week off.

Mauricio Marchant / Summerwood Winery & Inn:

Usually harvest starts the first or second week of September here at Summerwood. The first variety coming off will Grenache Blanc, followed by Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. That being said, we did see three to four weeks in a row (July-August) of 100 degree-plus temperatures, which shuts the vines down. So, things may be delayed this year.

Steve Cass / Cass Winery:

We picked for sparkling the last week of August. Generally, grapes for sparkling are picked a week or two before still wines. This year it will definitely be two weeks plus.

Sherman Thatcher / Thacher Winery:

Harvest started with Chenin Blanc on Aug. 30, Viognier on Sept. 3, and Pinot Noir on Sept. 4. Next up will be Grenache Blanc and dry-farmed Zinfandel. Syrah and Grenache are both getting close.

Q: How much later are you this year?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:

Looking at heat accumulation units from our weather station, we are 11 days behind 2017 and 15 days behind 2016.  Hallelujah – finally a cooler year after the unremitting heat of the last two!  It’s amazing, especially with the powerful, high pressure-driven heat spell during the last weeks of July.  The current weather trend during the day is below normal, and at night it’s downright cool—maybe we will get even more hang time.

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula Winery:

We’re about 10 days later on the Viognier than last year, and north of two weeks later than the years before last. Historically we pick Syrah around mid-August, but last year we picked at the end of August. This year will likely be deeper into September.

Mauricio Marchant / Summerwood Winery & Inn:

It is hard to say right now, it depends on how the weather behaves from now on. Vegetative growth, flowering and fruit set were all right on time; but, still, we may be two weeks late compared to an average year. 

Steve Cass / Cass Winery:

We normally pick for still white wine during the last week of August, so we are looking at about a week or so behind.

Sherman Thacher / Thacher Winery:

We are a week or so later than last year and two-plus weeks later than the previous two years.

Q: A later harvest doesn’t necessarily mean longer quality hang time. Are you forecasting longer hang times?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:

Bud break was normal-ish. Lower overall temperatures drive this later ripening on our high elevation vineyard. But yes, we are seeing a longer and quality hang time here toward the end.

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula Winery:

It could be that we have longer hang time, but bud break was also a couple weeks later than recent years. Even though we had a really warm July, the spring leading up to July, and the month of August have been unusually temperate. Approach is not different. We’re just sitting patiently and waiting for the right time.

Mauricio Marchant / Summerwood Winery & Inn:

Bud break was earlier this year – for us. If we hang longer this year, it would only be because the vines went dormant during the weeks-long hot spell in July-August.

Steve Cass / Cass Winery:

We think we are later due to the lengthy heat spell in July and early August.

Sherman Thacher / Thacher Winery:

It seems like we are having a longer hang time. A very hot July might have slowed things down. But, unlike last year we have been welcomed with cool weather for the start of harvest, giving us a chance to bring in the whites at their optimum ripeness. This bodes well for the reds, assuming it stays temperate.

Q: How was the growing season this year overall?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:

Thank goodness the heat of July took a break in August—otherwise we would have surely caught up to the previous hot years.  As it stands right now, we are on track for a more cooling trend, which will allow that fruit to stay out there longer—creating more color, more flavor, and more goodness.

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula Winery:

We came out of the rain season with a miracle March, and rain totals were just shy of 20 inches – a deficit, but ultimately fine. With the late rain, and cool spring, the vines progressed quite nicely, with little in the way of pests and mildew. Veraison was late. Normally we’re well into veraison by mid-July, and this year we were still seeing some varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, that were just entering veraison. It’s too early to speak to quality, but the vines and grapes look really healthy at this point, and the weather seems to be temperate out the next week at least. It seems to be spelling out an orderly harvest with the fruit developing beautifully.

Mauricio Marchant / Summerwood Winery & Inn:

Berries are small and skins are thick. Depending on how the weather behaves in the next couple of weeks, the wines will most likely be dark, with big aromas and flavor concentration. Alcohols will be higher than in 2016 and 2017.

Steve Cass / Cass Winery:

Berry set was poor for some varieties, which limits the size of crop yields… This is bad for a traditional grower, but good for wine quality!

Sherman Thacher / Thacher Winery:

Two years after the deluge and one year after a near average rainfall season, the plants are back into equilibrium. The crop load looks close to normal and for the most part very even. We are expecting the quality to be very high.

Q: Any initial impressions about the fruit quality in 2018?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:

Too early to comment on the potential wine quality – it will be another 3-4 weeks before we can begin to assess flavors and phenolic concentrations. At this point, we can make a pretty good estimate of yield – and it looks to be totally normal except with Grenache and Mourvèdre, where we are seeing above normal cluster weight.

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula Winery:

It’s too early to have a good read on the fruit other than cluster assessments. Still, almost all varieties, seem to be in great shape. Color looks good; ripening is even. That being said, with the current cool temperatures, we could run into an issue with late ripening.

Mauricio Marchant / Summerwood Winery & Inn:

We are seeing clusters that are looser, meaning there are fewer berries and lighter in weight. Berries are average size. Flavors are concentrated and the sugars will depend on the weather from now on. Later varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvédre are at risk of not accumulating all the sugar before the first winter rain. We’ll see!

Steve Cass / Cass Winery:

Whites look to have a sizeable crop, reds seem to be pretty average.

Sherman Thacher / Thacher Winery:

So far the whites have been even and full. Reds are close and also look very even. Longer hang time is usually beneficial as long as winter doesn’t interfere.

Q: What new technologies or techniques have you adopted this year?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:

This marks the third year utilizing sap-flow technology to monitor the actual water consumption in the vineyard. The last two years we reduced irrigation quantity by more than a factor of three, thanks to a much more detailed picture of the actual vine water usage. In 2018, we watered three times during the winter to compensate for a lesser rainfall year, which will lead to about a 15% reduction in total irrigation from 2017. However, the vines have responded well to this lean regimen – our canopy is holding up beautifully.

This year we also have begun to experiment with shade cloth to keep the berry temperature down. Post-veraison, when berries turn black, they absorb the sun’s energy and can experience temperatures 10-20 degrees warmer than the ambient air.  These high temperatures can lead to loss of crucial color and aroma components in the wine. Our shade cloth is designed to block 40% and 60% of the solar photons, which should help us reduce berry temperature and retain great color and aroma.    

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula Winery:

Other than we are still 100% dry farmed, there’s nothing new to report this year on that front.

Mauricio Marchant / Summerwood Winery & Inn:

In the vineyards nothing has changed, we continue sustainable farming and production. But, this year I will stop using SO2 during crush and pre-fermentation during cold soak, and instead will use a new yeast.

Steve Cass / Cass Winery:

We are trying shade cloth on Grenache and some hillside Cabernet Sauvignon to reduce sunburn.

Sherman Thacher / Thacher Winery:

Two years ago we switched up to cane pruning in a portion of our vineyard. The plants responded extremely well. Last year we converted everything to cane, and again are seeing a much healthier canopy and very even fruit set. No new toys in the winery this year but we will continue to experiment in the cellar!

Q: What’s been your biggest challenge this year?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:

Knock on wood—so far this year has been well behaved thanks to the vine toughness getting us through the three-week hot spell in July. 

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula winery:

Overall, this has been a fairly orderly growing season. The only exception really has been Mourvédre. The high temps in July caused a fair amount of cluster burn in a couple of our blocks. This is always vulnerability with Mourvédre. But we’ve become accustomed to dealing with this.

Mauricio Marchant / Summerwood Winery & Inn:

The heat, three to four weeks in a row, took a toll on the young vines behind the Summerwood Inn, resulting in a reduction of yields between 10% and 20%. The positive, what is left will most likely make some delicious, concentrated-flavor white wines. 

Steve Cass / Cass Winery:

No unusual issues this year…mildew normal, pests minimal, gophers normal…canopy development normal-to-a-bit short.

Sherman Thacher / Thacher Winery:

There were some flair-ups of mildew but nothing drastic. With timely leaf pulling and hot weather, it was quickly curbed.

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