Here’s how an ideal grape harvest goes. Several weeks before harvest, the winemaker takes the crop estimates from the vineyard and works out a time line with approximate harvest times and fermentation space. Scheduling is done based on estimated crop size from each block or vineyard, estimated time of grape maturity, and amount of fermentation space available, keeping in mind the labor needed for harvest to proceed smoothly.
In this ideal scenario, the cool nights and warm days of Oregon’s Indian Summer bring the grapes to optimal maturity and the harvest advances over a matter of weeks. The harvested grapes match the crop estimates so that each vineyard block fits into its allocated fermentation space; the grapes are clean and don’t need much sorting; finding enough pickers is not a problem; and the flavor of the grapes is outstanding–they have matured in flavor at the same time as they reached optimum sugar.
Does a harvest like this ever happen? At Sokol Blosser, we have known years that fit this pattern, but the harvest of 2011 was not one of them. The long wet spring, late bloom, and cool summer were not too worrisome. When we first started, we wondered which season would be the most critical and long ago concluded that there was only one that really determined the quality of the vintage–the fall ripening season. What made the harvest of 2011 so difficult was the timing of the rain. We expected to start harvest about October 10, but between October 2 and 15, we had only one day without measurable rain. This not only postponed harvest but threatened to dilute the grapes. We kept hoping for the glorious Indian Summer but it never arrived. October 16 to 28 continually threatened rain but ended up being dry enough for us to get most of our grapes in. Sugar levels weren’t where we wanted them but the grapes had had enough “hang time” and we hoped for maturity of flavor and lower alcohol wines. Most of the blocks came in higher tonnage than estimated so that fermentation space was continually reshuffled, always at the last minute. The theme for the year was continuous improvisation, but the interval of dry weather helped us avert disaster and we look forward to good, flavorful wines from the 2011 vintage.