Kukkula Wines

Sunday November 1, 2020

a man can dream!

I guess I should have known bet­ter than to think that the 2020 har­vest would be unevent­ful!

It dawned on me, in think­ing through what I want­ed to write about, the irony of the year we’re in: 20/20 — Clar­i­ty of vision? It’s been any­thing but that, has­n’t it?

To start, the geopo­lit­i­cal envi­ron­ment has been an acci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen for a while, and I guess it’s not a sur­prise that it’s com­ing to a boil as we approach elec­tion day.

Eco­nom­i­cal­ly, this last cycle has had a dura­tion and inten­si­ty unlike any­thing I’ve expe­ri­enced. It should be no sur­prise that we’re on shaky ground, and we can thank COVID for kick­ing things off. It’s hard to believe we’ve been hun­kered down since March and there’s no real end in sight at this point.

So, when the late rains pro­vid­ed a sense of safe­ty for this vin­tage, and we had a cool and unevent­ful spring and sum­mer, nat­u­ral­ly, I assumed that this could be yet anoth­er in a string of essen­tial­ly text­book per­fect grow­ing sea­sons, start­ing in 2018. Sil­ly me! I had for­got­ten that this was 2020, the year of noclar­i­ty of vision.

At the begin­ning of har­vest I was asked to par­tic­i­pate in a zoom call with a few oth­er wine­mak­ers to engage with jour­nal­ists and blog­gers about the vin­tage. My thoughts, in short, were that the vines were healthy, fruit was hang­ing beau­ti­ful­ly, and we were in the ear­ly stages of what looked like an easy har­vest.

With­in a few days we were about to be hit by a heat wave that was only sup­posed to be three days north of 100. This was the sec­ond of what would become four heat waves in a span of six weeks. The first, a week ear­li­er, was longer in dura­tion but the smoke from the San­ta Cruz fire cov­ered our region with high lev­el smoke and actu­al­ly held the highs in the low/​mid 90s instead of the 100 plus tem­per­a­tures expect­ed. We dodged a bul­let. The smoke had come from far enough away and was at a fair­ly high alti­tude, so thank­ful­ly we were like­ly spared any issues with smoke taint on our crop.

The impend­ing heat in a few days time was­n’t a sur­prise. I expect­ed that the vines and fruit would be able to han­dle a few days of even extreme heat, espe­cial­ly after sail­ing through the longer dura­tion heat wave a week ear­li­er. That turned out to be a bad assump­tion. After the heat it became obvi­ous that a num­ber of the blocks had up to 50% loss of fruit. This, as you can imag­ine, was quite dis­heart­en­ing!

And the pun­ish­ment con­tin­ued. We aggres­sive­ly har­vest­ed many blocks, but a num­ber were clear­ly not ready. In the inter­ven­ing sev­er­al weeks, through this last Tues­day, we had anoth­er cou­ple of heat spells. The net result is that about a third of our fruit over­all was lost due to heat dam­age. Addi­tion­al­ly a fair amount of the fruit came in at high­er lev­els of sug­ar than ide­al. I guess I have my work cut out for me! Clear­ly, this is going to be a wine­mak­er’s year.

In some ways 2017 was sim­i­lar, and I recall think­ing at the time that it would not be a stand out vin­tage. Turns out I was wrong. I believe that of all the vin­tages we’ve released since start­ing kukku­la that 2017 may well be the best vin­tage I’ve deliv­ered. That was also a wine­mak­er’s vin­tage. We expe­ri­enced approx­i­mate­ly ten days of over 100 degree days as har­vest was begin­ning, forc­ing us to har­vest near­ly 70% of the crop in the first five days. We ran out of tank space, had bins piled every­where, and worked fever­ish­ly for weeks to stay on top of the moun­tain of fruit.

Reflect­ing on this gives me a sense of opti­mism. This vin­tage has def­i­nite­ly thrown anoth­er curve ball at us. I sup­pose it’s fit­ting that it hap­pened in 2020. So, I’ll take the chal­lenge and find my way through this, and I look for­ward to cel­e­brat­ing a new year with the end of polit­i­cal tur­moil, eco­nom­ic vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, get­ting a han­dle on COVID, and the begin­ning of anoth­er text­book per­fect vin­tage. A man can dream, can’t he?


More Newsletters