We’ve contacted our portfolio of clients to bring you updates from around the globe as to how 2021 is going in the fields and vines. We cover a lot of ground (pun intended) so please be sure to read through to the end.
We’ll kick it off with something a bit different, our friends at St. George Spirits gave us an update on some crops other than grapes. Here is what Dave Smith, head distiller/blender has to say:
“Drought conditions have been a persistent concern in many parts of the west for years now. While it varies from year to year, it’s always a concern. This year we’re seeing some real challenges in the northwest with regards to raspberries and even cereal grains, which is deeply troubling. As a producer who works with real agriculture but is also responsible for our expectations of truly consistent excellence, these shortages have a real impact and force us to evaluate what sustainable agriculture may look like in the future. What we could count on ten years ago won’t necessarily be there in the same way for any of us a decade or two down the road.
Every harvest we endeavor to produce more spirit from seasonal ingredients than we project a need for in a given year so that we’re able to blend harvests together and ensure greater continuity in our bottlings. We’re working with real ingredients and while consumers expect the 2019 vintage from their favorite wine producer to be a bit different from 2018 vintage, spirits consumers aren’t necessarily thinking in those terms. Blending together different harvests helps to ensure that every time our customers open a bottle of Green Chile Vodka that they’re greeted by a familiar friend. In past years we had created larger inventories, so that this year we were in a position to bring in a smaller load of peppers. We have always enjoyed a warm relationship with our pepper grower; they’re a real strategic partner to us as we work together every harvest. Given the smaller load this year, I suspect that we’ll be bringing in a larger load of peppers next harvest.
Realistically, every harvest has unique challenges that unfold over time. Whether we’re importing the most recent harvest of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans from our favorite grower, or we’re talking to one of our produce contacts about raspberry shortages in the northeast, it’s always going to be something. This year raspberries are a real concern. The significant question then becomes whether or not raspberries continue to have a shortage next year or the year after. As we overproduce some years, we can mitigate those challenges to a certain degree, but those strategies are only effective for so long…Some years there are Colorado pears available, other years absolutely zero. This year, Colorado pears are available. We’re hopeful that both our California and Colorado pears will begin to land over the coming weeks which is always a wonderful time of year. We’re expecting both Colorado as well as California organic Bartlett’s this year, somewhere in the range of half a million pounds or so. It’s going to be a good harvest.
And now for the grapes – let’s start in the Northern Hemisphere where things are gearing up for harvest. In fact, our friends at Barton & Guestier in France have let us know that they already have a date identified for their Merlot harvest at Chateauâ Magnol, in Bordeaux. Mark your calendars, the entire team will be on hand to pick these grapes on September 21!
Moving west, we come to North Carolina where the Biltmore Winery team gives us an update on east coast vineyards. Vice President and Head Winemaker Sharon Fenchak tells us:
The summer has been relatively uneventful so far for the growing season. The vineyard team is doing a good job keeping up with any pests. The next month will be critical in how the grapes ripen for this harvest. Hopefully we will have limited rainfall from hurricanes that often come up from the east coast and gulf shores. Normally, we start to harvest our Chardonnay in the first week in September.
In 2020, our vineyard was hit really hard with frost and freeze events so our harvest was greatly reduced. In 2021, we have already experienced several frost and freeze events but not as severe as the previous year,so we should have a decent harvest. We are looking forward to some good acidity and hopefully higher brix due to smaller yields. We should also be getting our first significant harvest of Petite Manseng this year! It will be fun to see how it’s coming along and see the potential of the grapes.”
Vineyard Manager Philip Oglesby chimes in to say:
Though not particularly a new practice, we did prune some of the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon plants in a different manner this year by cane pruning rather than our normal cane-and-spur method. The idea was to revive and restore some of the wood along the cordon area in hopes that we achieve more evenly ripened and higher quality fruit in certain areas that have suffered freeze damage in the past. The spring frost/freeze cycles may have negated some of those efforts, though. Such is farming!
As we continue across the U.S., we caught up with Anthony Beckman, Vice President and Winemaker of Balletto Vineyards the Russian River Valley of California:
The weather these last five weeks has been picture-perfect, cool fog in morning, 80s in the hot part of the day and then back to very cool nights around 55F. If this keeps up, it will be a stunning harvest, but there’s a long way to go. Last year had rather nice weather, too, until lightning storms sparked fires/smoke and then we had a heat spike over Labor Day.
That being said, we anticipate that we’ll be beginning to pick the Pinot Noir for our sparkling wines by about the 13th of August. The fruit for our Rosé of Pinot will follow (about six to ten days later). The grapes for our other Pinot Noir wines will begin in some select spots around Aug. 20 and get really busy at the end of the month and/or beginning of September. The vineyards in the Sebastopol Hills are at least two weeks behind the other vineyards in the Santa Rosa Plains and Laguna Ridge. It’s always nice when they are separated as it gives us a chance to get in with some of the earlier picked fruit and then out of the red open top fermenters before the Hillside fruit starts to come in. One of the challenges of 2021 is that we’re having the most difficult year ever in terms of hiring people to work the harvest. It’s never been easy to fill these spots, but this year is on a whole new level of difficulty!
Heading south into the Santa Lucia Highlands, we caught up with Paul Clifton, Director of Winemaking at Hahn Family Wines:
The 2021 growing season started out extremely dry and warm in December-January, so irrigating in January was initiated to help fill the soil profile prior to bud break, which we have seen happen as early as February. However, the end of January, we had atmospheric flooding. Being born and raised in this area, I have never seen that much rain fall all at once. Over the course of 48 hours, we received 6.5 inches of rain, half our annual rainfall, and in this particular winter, it was pretty much the only rain we saw. Bud break started the first week of March. In May we had bloom, which was very drawn out because of variable weather in terms of cool to hot conditions. The remainder of the growing season was on par with 2020 and most other years, consistent fog in mornings, sun by late morning, then the wind kicking in.As of the first week of August, veraison was near 90% in some clones, so we are anticipating a typical start to harvest, the first or second week of September. In looking at all the different blocks over the last week, we are looking forward to an evenly spread and steady paced harvest based on what we are seeing with the variability of veraison between clones.We are also praying for no heat spikes, no smoke, and plentiful rain come November.
Over the years, we have been wanting to trial with organic grape growing. So, for the 2021 vintage, we picked out 60 acres of Pinot Noir in Doctor’s Vineyard to farm organically. This trial will be both for quality differences and cost differentials between sustainably certified grape growing and organic grape growing.
Further south, in Paso Robles, we heard from Winemaker Megan McCollough at Smith & Hook:
We’ve seen a lot more cool and foggy mornings this year overall. The month of June was overcast in the morning every single day. We still continue to see days with fog lingering longer in the SLH. In Paso, the amount of heat spikes have been considerably less, and much more consistent temperature days. Summer isn’t over yet though and we are expecting some elevated temperatures. The vineyards are about 50%-75% through verasion and looking healthy. In terms of picking, for Cabernet Sauvignon it’s most likely early to mid-October. Harvest is always a celebration and I’m personally looking forward to it as last year was not as hands on.
In California’s Edna Valley, we hear from Rob Takigawa, Director of Winemaking for Baileyana Winery and Tangent and True Myth brands:
The summer of 2021 has not seen the extreme heat and smoke that we experienced in 2020, yet.
Veraison has started on all the properties so we are looking to harvest around the week of Labor Day. Some aromatic whites on our coastal properties will most likely be harvested earlier. We experienced a cool spell during bloom which led to a small production in the vineyards and uneven set. Management of the canopy to help promote balance to the clusters for an even ripening has been implemented, with sun exposure and mindful irrigation practices. We’re looking forward to a smoke-free harvest and blessing every day that I can walk the vineyards and observe the development of the fruit that will soon be coming into the winery.
And now to the Southern Hemisphere, where it is winter and things are understandably a little quieter.
First, we checked in with Aurelio Montes, Chief Winemaker of Montes Wines in Chile:
After finishing harvest 2021 earlier this year, everything has been quite normal except for rainfall. It has been quite a mild winter otherwise. Evolution of the vines is perfect and on schedule, we are currently waiting for budbreak which we expect in 2-3 weeks. We are currently getting some rain now, and there is more predicted in the next week as the winter closes out, which we are looking forward to. 2020 was an exact opposite year in terms of rain; it was very rainy and it was generally cooler all the way through the year, especially in Spring and Summer. However, the Southern Hemisphere generally mirrors what happens in the North so we are expecting it to be very warm this summer. Overall, if the rainfall situation improves, I anticipate lower yields and higher concentration from this vintage.
While we have this time, we are re-planting about 100 acres worth of vines. Some of these are vines we were having problems with as it was not the right variety for the area. For example, we had some Cabernet in soils which were too rich and we’re looking to replace these with Merlot. In other instances, these are new plantings on untouched soil, some are even grapes that are new to Chile. Anything new that we plant is inherently risky simply because Chile doesn’t have as much established viticultural history to draw from. We just try to learn as fast as possible (4-5 years at a time), to see if the vine is going to work in that area.
An exciting example is our Patagonia vineyard, which produced its first bottles of wine with the 2021 harvest, mostly Sauvignon Blanc and some Chardonnay. This is still a very experimental project for now. And it has been a fight with the wildlife! Beavers and some small birds are discovering grapes for the first time and loving it. It has taken a lot of management with some fencing to get ahead of that.
This vineyard is located in a unique place where it rains quite a lot, but it does drain well. Many of the minerals are lost in natural drainage to the ocean though, so it’s quite poor soil. Another challenge was finding workers in that area who had any experience with wines and vines. When you go to the real limit, like this place is, you need to be patient, because it will take 5, 10, even 15 years to really learn the place and see results.
Moving across the globe again, we arrive in South Africa to check-in with the properties of Beck Family Estates.
At Graham Beck, Cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira let us know:
â€œFor our 2021 harvest there was a lovely synchronicity with that first vintage for our Graham Beck Cap Classique wines, and this was that harvest was conducted under the night sky. In 1991 this was because our cellar roof was not yet completed and in 2021 it was because we chose to do 100% night harvest at our estate in Robertson. Harvest kicked off on January 11 at precisely midnight and the vineyards sparkled like fireflies on the move hanks to hundreds of flickering headlamps.
Comparing to the last couple of years…this year looks excellent! We are currently right in the middle of our winter season. We have had really very good rainfall in the important catchment areas in our area of Robertson, and good snow falls have occurred in the high mountain peaks. The vines are in full resting mode and pruning will commence this week. The importance of consistency and continuity are the main drivers for our vineyard practices. Though always sustainability and conservation-minded, we continue to look for ways to be even greener in all of our practices.
We are planning to plant 6 acres of the latest available Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clones that we don’t have in the mix. Also, for the first time we will plant Pinot Meunier. This is the third varietal widely planted in Champagne and we are looking forward to working with these grapes in the next couple of years. So watch this space!
Finally, in July, we had yet another total ban of the sale of alcohol in South Africa. This is no fun for us here back home and we are only just so thankful that we could export our beautiful bubbles. The whole Graham Beck team says thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for the tremendous support we have experienced during these challenging times.
Elunda Basson, Cellarmaster at Steenberg Vineyards chimes in with:
I am pleased to report that our 2021 harvest proceeded well. In 2020 we encountered an issue where we had to leave some fruit on the vines as our cellars were full. This was a speed bump produced by the first alcohol ban that South Africa instituted; it prevented us from processing the fruit as quickly as we would have liked. This year we did not have to leave any grapes on the vines! Nevertheless, the pandemic still keeps us on our toes. As an example, this year we harvested everything by hand as a result of some Covid supply chain issues. A wonderful change to make though it did require lots of improvising and thinking on the spot!
Looking into the vines this August, this winter is much colder than what we have experienced the past few years, but fortunately not abnormally cold. Rainfall has been above average (about 100mm more than usual) with much more of it falling in June/July than normal (normally spread more evenly). The colder winter currently experienced should give us better budding in Aug/Sept this year. We are also busy replanting about 4 hectares of our historically most famous block, this is one that has given us some of our best Sauvignon Blanc over the years. We are extremely excited for what these news vines will be able to contribute in the future