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?