The last of the Dunnigan Hills fruit was crushed on Friday, September 20. The Musque chardonnay clone 809 growing in the Giguiere Family’s JK Vineyard finally turned golden and sweet signaling a “go” to harvest. The 60 tons of Musque fruit attracted a swarm of wasps at the crush pad putting the stamp of approval on the honey descriptor for that clone. We are breathing a sigh of relief – we finished harvesting one day ahead of the rain that blanketed Northern California.
Even as we finish harvesting the estate fruit, we are just beginning to harvest the Sonoma County fruit. 24 tons of Chalk Hill merlot arrived on the 20th from Cecil De Loach’s Sweetwater Ranch. The hand harvested grapes not only tasted great they looked beautiful. Perfect clusters and a pretty blue hue. This is the first year we have crushed the merlot at our Zamora winery. While Winemaker Dan Cederquist has always been offered the privilege to cherry-pick from Cecil’s best wine lots, we are happy to have complete control of all our Mossback fruit from harvest to bottling.
50% of the Russian River Valley pinot noir is in the house and fermenting. The Siebert Vineyard and Gary Nelson fruit that came in last week looked better than the last few difficult years. Clean fruit. Delicious deep flavors. According to Dan and Winemaker Lacey Steffey, 2013 just may rival the 2008 and 2009 vintages. They have dubbed this “the year of intensity and concentration”.
Russian River chardonnay harvest was scheduled to start September 21, but Dan called it off due to the impending rain. He doesn’t expect the forecasted ½ inch to do any damage; it should just settle all the dust in the air. But the tiny bit of rain will plump up the grapes and he would like to give them a couple days to dry out a bit before harvesting. We expect to hand harvest the Aquarius Vineyard and Gary Nelson Russian River chardonnay by the end of the week.
Cabernet sauvignon will be the last fruit to come into the winery this year. The Chalk Hill cab at Sweetwater Ranch is sitting at 23 degrees Brix right now. We are waiting for it to reach 24 or 24.5 degrees Brix before we pick. We like those numbers. We don’t want an overly sweet, overly alcoholic Cabernet Sauvignon.
Dan brought in a sample of the Lodi cabernet sauvignon grapes that we are buying this year for Sawbuck. They look gorgeous! This is excess fruit from a grower contracted to farm grapes for Coppola. This will be the last year we purchase cabernet for Sawbuck. Starting next year, all cabernet sauvignon for that brand will be from our new vineyards across the street from the winery.
There are 165,000 gallons of Dunnigan Hills juice fermenting at the winery. This includes a record 1,037 fermenting barrels of chardonnay. We expect that number to climb to 1,100 barrels by the time the Russian River chardonnay is crushed. The little bit of rain will give the cellar crew a chance to catch their breath and spend a few bucolic days on punch downs, pump overs, racking, and stirring barrels.
The 2013 harvest season began on August 22 with a saber-cut to a bottle of bubbly and an opening day pep talk from winemaker Dan Cederquist as the first gondola of Matchbook tempranillo grapes rolled on to the crush pad.
Crush began two weeks early for us and for every other California grower if press reports are correct. A short heat spike in mid-August sent grape sugars surging and the vineyard crew rushing to finish last-minute maintenance on the harvesters. But the weather soon settled into a textbook Dunnigan Hills summer pattern of daytime temperatures in the low 90’s, nighttime cooling to the low 60’s.
2013 is the sixth crush at our Zamora winery and the sixth year with the same crew. Most of the cellar and vineyard staff was also with us at R.H. Phillips so harvest is a fairly routine matter for these pros. We still pick at night, a technique that was considered oddball in 1983 when Karl Giguiere strung lights on a cart to illuminate the vines; but night harvest is now an industry standard. Karl sends the harvesters to the Giguiere family’s JK Vineyard at around 10:00 pm and moves them to the Matchbook vineyard around 5:00 the next morning. Our extremely efficient crew has the last load in the press and is cleaning the crush pad just as the admin staff arrives for work.
This may qualify as the quickest harvest of our 30 years here in the Dunnigan Hills. Certainly, it is the quickest since our winery facility was completed in 2008. The difference this year is that there is no stopping and starting waiting for different vineyard sections to ripen. It has just been a steady onslaught as the grapes ripen in a one wave after another allowing us to march through the vineyards at the rate of 50 tons per day, six days a week.
Tempranillo is always the first to be picked and the first to finish; the final load was crushed on September 9. The Matchbook chardonnay and graciano harvest was completed on the same day. The last grapes to be harvested at the Matchbook vineyard were syrah clone 383 and malbec, which were harvested on September 10. By contrast, the Musque chardonnay clone 809 grapes are taking their sweet time to ripen at the JK Vineyard. This is one grape that defies scientific sampling methods when it comes to determining harvest dates. Dan and Lacey walk the vineyard daily and when the chardonnay finally has that distinct muscat flavor, that’s when we harvest.
The first load of Russian River grapes arrived the morning of September 10. Seven tons of pinot noir from Gary Nelson’s vineyard on Olivet Lane (one of Cecil De Loach’s old vineyards) were crushed and sent to open top fermenters. The Russian River chardonnay will arrive a week or so later and the Chalk Hill cabernet sauvignon might be ready to pick by the end of the month. Our very first load of Russian River sauvignon blanc grapes are due in on September 12. We purchased 20 tons from the romantically named Chalk Ridge to expand our Chasing Venus brand.
The tanks are almost full, even the three new 20,000-gallon tanks that were put in moments before harvest began. New barrels are due to arrive on September 12; just in the nick of time.