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The Main Question To Ask During Harvest

It's Not Pinotage, but it's Pinot Noir and as close as I could get in Sonoma

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I haven’t done one of these in a while, but there’s a few reasons for that, not the least of which is that I was spending some time sourcing some wine up in the Pacific Northwest that you’ll see in the next coming months as part of wine club shipments.

So I thought, harvest is starting to ramp up. If you’re on any winery email list you’re likely getting an update or two from folks that I’ve spent time with and talked to in the last few days. There are some very early pickings of stuff coming in, of a Russian River based wine maker who’s picking some Trosseau Gris, or picked yesterday, some Tousson Gris out in Lodi. That would be about the earliest that you could ever expect anything to come in. I know there’s a Napa winery that I spoke with earlier this week that has some Sangiovese rose coming in on Thursday.

So you’re starting to see the ramp. It looks increasingly like this year the Sonoma folks are going to be absolutely slammed in the middle of September with Pinot grapes. Napa usually runs 10 days to two weeks or so behind them, and so you’re looking at a lot of Cabernet, and kind of other Syrah and stuff coming in to the valley probably at the beginning of October.

So we’ll have some fun content for that. We’re going to try to get up this week to a night pick. If you’re not familiar, often grapes, they want to have picked in the early morning hours before the heat gets to them. With warm temperatures that we’re having, that pushes it even earlier into the morning. Just to put this in perspective, the specific pick I’m talking about, they’re talking about a three to five AM start time, start to finish. So it’s just to put that in perspective what time we’re talking about when they say a night pick, it truly is in the middle of the night.

So I’m joined by a bottle of Pinot, so outside of the things that you’ll hear about harvest and how this is a great vintage, and this might be the best vintage ever and all kind of the normal kind of BS that goes in the industry, the other thing that you aren’t going to hear about is you’re going to not hear about the drought, and you’re going to hear about people saying, well, the drought’s gone, but when it comes to Pinot, and I think this is a good example of this, because this is Santa Lucia Highlands juice, that’s a reasonable price point, kind of in the mid 20 dollar range.

For Santa Lucia Highlands and for other kind of high class and well respected pinot destinations, why can’t they produce a wine for 20 bucks? Or 15, or 10, or whatever, pick your favorite price point. And the answer to that is partially going to be told during harvest. So Pinot by nature, especially in California is grown at the outside of kind of where the industry started. Cabernet took the kind of Cabernet, Merlot, Bordeaux varietals standard vineyard placements, and the stuff that was considered marginal and not quite perfect was where Pinto went in. And that’s worked out fine, because Pinot’s a cooler weather grape and California in large part vineyards and growers have kind of figured it out.

But when it comes to harvest, then you’re going to hear a second part to that. Yes, this marginal vineyard site that we love for Pinot and it’s perfect for Pinot, oh, but we actually don’t get that much fruit from it. And that’s actually the issue. If you grow a Cabernet on a good site, you can get even in Napa with controlling yields as much as you can, you probably get two to four tons per acre without having to try real hard. There are large swatches of Pinot Noir vineyards on some coast that they love to get four, I mean they would literally throw a parade. So that’s really the just of it and that’s why prices are higher for Pinot than others.

So when you’re reading about harvest and everyone’s telling you how great harvest is, there’s a couple of things to watch for. So first, watch when picks are actually happening. That’ll give you an idea about if it’s a warm or cool vintage before you hear all the kind of marketing hype that goes along with it. And then second, if anyone releases what their yield is, that’s incredibly important. In the wine industry, we often talk about acidity and tannins and all this stuff and really at the end of the day, the easiest way to tell about the quality of the wine is to ask how many grapes they get per acre, what’s the yield. And that’s really the main question and unfortunately for consumers, that’s one thing that’s not shared very often. I’ll tell you from experience, just walking through the average vineyard, you can really tell the difference.

So that’s a quick update, and we’ll get some more content up this weekend. I hope everybody’s having a good one so far.

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