Wednesday September 23, 2015
be careful what you wish for...
I’ve talked on a number of occasions over the last four years about the drought. Each year I think things will get better (At some point they will, but I am starting to wonder!). I’m blown away that we’re four years in, and yet things keep getting worse. Not so much for us, but for the masses. Our lakes are drying up, literally. The ground water is dropping to unbelievable depths. People are losing their homes and businesses because they have no water. Local governments are forming water boards, and neighbors are up in arms over other neighbors’ water practices.
I’ve also talked about feeling fortunate and prescient about our decision to dry farm our vines when we started this project 11 years ago. I’m a guy who doesn’t sleep much, but the one thing that doesn’t keep me up at night is worrying about my wells running dry.
The news over the last several months has us all convinced that the El Niño is really going to happen this winter, and we can breathe a sigh of relief. Now, I do remember this same conversation last year, but, … really folks, this time “they’re” sure!
Last winter, we had a little over sixteen inches of rain until bud break. That falls right in the middle of the range of the last four years, with a high of eighteen inches, and a low of ten inches. What seemed to make this last rainy season somewhat palatable was that it was a lot better than the really paltry ten inches in 2014, and the rain was distributed more evenly across the whole rainy season. The spring was cool, and, for the most part, this summer wasn’t too hot.
The “pièce de résistance”, though, was that we had a really unprecedented rain event at the end of July of 2.6 inches. This was the cream on the cake! It pretty well assured us that we’d cruise through the growing season and the vines would not be trying to shut down before our fruit ripened.
I assumed this would result in better acids, lower pHs than the previous three year, and it seems that’s what we’re getting. For the most part, our grapes are coming in textbook perfect. One slight problem, though: Depending on the varietal, we’re getting anywhere from 20% to 50% less fruit, as compared to last year. And last year was about 20% lighter than the vintage prior. Big time bummer!
This year saw another 20 acres of vines giving us fruit for the first time. But the faucet was only trickling. I’ve just picked a dollop of my first estate Petite Sirah (750 pounds) from a two acre block. We’ve also picked our first estate white varietals. We’re growing Viognier, Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne, yet we harvested just enough Grenache Blanc and Roussanne (four acres) to get us maybe 25 cases for you to enjoy in the summer of 2016. Hopefully, next season, we’ll be able to craft our first estate version of vaalea with all three varietals.
Ten of the twenty acres are Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre from our friends, Ron and Cami’s vineyard this year. It’s not much, but it’s all helpful in easing the pain of minuscule yields at our vineyard. Prior to realizing we were going to be getting significantly reduced yields, we were toying with what type of blend we were going to fashion to show off the new Petite Sirah. We were also thinking about what type of GSM blend we could create to best represent the fruit from Ron and Cami’s vineyard, and, perhaps, be able to better evaluate the differences from his site relative to ours.
Concurrent with all this, Paula and I have been having some heavy discussions over the last year about whether we might have too many blends. Perhaps we should consider cutting a few? Maybe focus on a core of wines that best define kukkula? That’s a conversation for another time, but it is in the works.
Anyway, to make a long story short, we are going to reduce the line up. We aren’t going to introduce a Petite Sirah blend. And we aren’t going to do a Ron and Cami cuvéé. … At least not this vintage. Life’s getting a bit too complicated!
Reflecting on the last four years, I’ve come to realize that the 2012, 2013, and 2014 vintages have all been quite nice. Many are saying that 2013 is exceptional. Perhaps. I think 2014 might be better, and I’m even tempted at this point to say that 2015 will be every bit as good. Maybe the best of the last four years. I don’t usually go out on the limb like this. Typically, when asked, I say it’s too early to tell. Yields aside, though, the color, the flavors, the higher acidity, the extremely small crop, seem to be pointing to something very special. One thing is quite clear; the havoc caused by the last several years of drought for the masses has produced some exceptional vintages for the winemaking world.
The irony in all this, perhaps, is that wet years tend to produce somewhat less inspiring vintages. That said, I think I’d like to experience a season of plentiful rain, a big beautiful crop, and plants that have plenty of water to drink through the hot summer. While we’re at it, rains that stop around the first of April, a cool spring, a warm (not hot) summer, no weeds, mildew, birds, bees, gophers, squirrels, deer, or wild boar, an orderly harvest, and lots of adoring fans of our wines! A guy can dream, can’t he?
Something tells me, though, that we’re about to have an epic rainy season, and we’re going to be trying to figure out how to turn off the rain switch. So… be careful what you wish for. You might just get it!