For many years people have asked me when is the best time to visit San Francisco and I always answer October; as the fog moves away from the coast leading to lovely fall days. As I was playing golf last week in San Francisco very close to where I grew up, it was a very cool 65 degrees and the marine layer of fog was in full shroud and it has been this way for weeks. When I got home only 30 minutes away south it was 75 and nice but nowhere near the normal 20-25 degree difference am I used to. I wondered how this cool weather was affecting the grapes so I shot off this email to a couple of my good winegrowing friends… How are things looking in the vineyard? Living here in Redwood City for the past 13 years, the one thing I have noticed this year is that the summer has been much cooler, and without the usual spikes of drastic heat for a few days that we usually get. The temps are down almost 10 + degrees from normal this time of year. Many weeks have been in the mid 70’s low 80’s, very unusual. I’m not complaining because being originally from Daly City the weather is perfect for me, but many here keep saying it is really not as warm as usual. Of course we may still get some heat spikes. Moderate temps are not all bad, keeping freshness and acidity…your thoughts?
I sent this out knowing full well that California wines are beloved worldwide for their bold ripeness, richness and silky textures; but also knowing that some of the greatest vintages can be the “cool ones”. Vintages like 1987, 1985 and 2010, all made wines of great concentration and that can age very well.
Eric Miller the owner and winemaker from Kokomo Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma came back with this… Harvest 2016
We’ve started out the gates very similarly to the 2015 vintage, with early sugars and early color. The one notable difference this year, is that the winter brought us bountiful rains that took us out of the drought conditions we had been seeing for the past three vintages. We brought in our first fruit of 2016, Muscat Blanc, on August 19th, which once again was very similar to last year’s start. Then everything cooled down and we didn’t see temperatures in the 90’s for upwards of three weeks. This is actually an ideal scenario for a vintage, as it encourages early ripeness and maturity but allows for long hang times, which in turn builds flavors and a true physiological ripeness. The only challenge that this cool weather brings with its consistent morning fog, is that it leaves a layer of dew on the grapes that raises the threat of mildew and botrytis.
The flavors in the vineyard taste great so far, although everything does seem to be a little lower on acid this year. Overall the vineyards are looking much happier than the past couple years, which can be attributed to the above average rainfalls from last winter. We are currently in the process of waiting for everything to sugar up and ripen, and we’re loving the fact that the maturity is slow and the weather is making for what could be yet another epic vintage.
Mike Lamborn owner of Lamborn Vineyards on Howell Mountain 1600 feet above the Valley floor came back with this… Things on the mountain are fine and dandy. I am not weather smart, but my sense is that the cool temperatures that you refer to have persisted along the coast (and inland coastal communities like RWC ) but once you get inland ( Walnut Creek, Livermore, St. Helena ) things have been more or less normal. You are right that we haven’t had any significant hot spells, but our average daytime temps at the farm have been in the low eighties. I think our nights have been generally cooler than past seasons. Mildew was a big challenge all over Napa this year, and for us being that it was our first Organic year, it was slightly more of a challenge. Bloom was good, fruit set was good, crops look to be rather average in size, we have completed verasion, and next thing you know we’ll be picking.
2016 will be the first fruit from our new Cabernet block ( ENTAV Clone 169 ), and we are excited to be picking 2-2.5 tons. Our plan ( hope ) is for a single vineyard wine, so we’ll see what Heidi Barrett thinks.
I’ll be taking samples in that block on Friday morning, as those young vines are leading the pack in development. I think we’ll have all the fruit in before the 3rd week of September.
In Bordeaux it is a whole different story! My friends Sean and Nicola Allison in Cerons told me that June was the wettest month of June ever on record and then the weather switched dramatically to extremely hot temperatures that continue to this day. The average daytime temperatures in August was 87 degrees Fahrenheit and the average in the last 7 days was 94. The vines are starting to show hydraulic stress so the vines could use a good rain storm or two and soon!
I was expressing my grave concern for the 2016 vintage in Bordeaux to my good friend Pierre Lawton whose family has been in the wine trade for hundreds of years. I always learn a lot from Pierre and he was not concerned in the least and I was shocked. He reminded me that the hottest vintage ever was 1893 and that the harvest took place on August 15th. He has had the pleasure of many 1893's and said they were delicious and fresh at or near their 100th birthday. All I could say was WOW!
I just returned from heaven on earth if you love Golf, Food and Wine; that place is Pebble Beach and it has been foggy (like my golf game) there for weeks also but the sun came out for a day on Tuesday at Spanish Bay and it was blissful!
Cheers to you! Ralph Sands