This year’s Harvest, like every harvest, was unique unto itself in its own ways. First off, to accurately paint the picture of what this year’s harvest was like I have to go back and talk about the growing season and year leading up to the final point where we pick the grapes off of the vine. To do this I’m going to start in December of last year. Just as our 2021 vintage was being barreled down to age the winter over, and the vines were just about finished dropping their leaves and heading into winter dormancy we got two significant snowfalls. One of which dropped over a foot of snow at the winery. This was an extremely unusual amount of snow for us especially for that time of year. This had us getting prepared for a long cold wet winter. That winter did not show up. Instead we had a dryer mild winter. We had a few good rain storms… one that comes to mind came on the first day of one of Jim’s trips out when our 4 inch main water line burst and he was welcomed with a fountain that needed fixing in the pouring rain. We “mostly all Jim” got it fixed in time to get water to the tasting room before we opened that day, but that’s a story for another time. The rest of the winter turned quickly to spring around the end of January which awakened the vines earlier than we would hope for, and we were seeing bud break in our Chardonnay just after Valentine’s Day. Seeing this we started working double time in the vineyards to get everything pruned before the vines started pushing new growth out everywhere. This led us into our actual spring where we saw temperatures drop really low, and our entire region experienced unprecedented frost for multiple days. We were affected by the frost, but we fared better than some of the vineyards near us who lost most of their crop.
Soon after the frost was over we skipped the rest of spring time and headed straight into summer. In the beginning of summer we experienced several early summer rains. Summer rains are great for fire safety, keeping the grass green, but they’re not great for growing grapes, and can lead to mildew and other problems in the vineyard. The latter part of summer was warm and dry, and we began to see the grapes developing on the vines. As the grapes started to go into veraison we got a better picture of how the frost truly affected us, and while we felt lucky to have a decent crop our yields particularly in our white wine varietals were down significantly. However most of our reds looked close to normal, or above normal in the case of our Mourvedre and Cabernet Franc. Towards the end of summer we experienced more intense heat and dryness which pushed the grapes, particularly our white wines towards ripeness in the middle of August.
Soon we were seeing all of our whites coming into the optimal ripeness zone and they were showing to have balanced acidity to match their sugar levels. We had our first pick of the Chardonnay on August 22nd, which traditionally would be pretty early in the season to pick. I have to say, I’m really excited about this chardonnay! A common theme I saw throughout this harvest with our white wines was that the warmer weather, and early start to harvest drove the brix and sugar levels up to ripeness at a faster rate than the grapes would lose their acidity. Meaning the fruit retained acid levels you would normally see at lower brix levels, while gaining the concentration and riper fruit characters that we desired. Oftentimes winemakers are balancing their picking decisions on reaching optimal ripeness while trying to preserve acidity. This year with all its unpredictable craziness the vines did it for us at Sierra Vista. This was a unique occurrence that seemed to happen with all of our white wines this year, and I couldn’t be more excited only a month or so into the life of all the 2022 whites so far!
As our harvest rolled on, right around Labor Day we had all of our whites, and almost all of our rose wines off of the vine and happily fermenting along, while all of the reds on the vine were slowly coming to ripeness at a predictable measured pace. It was almost a break in the harvest where we could catch our breath, and take a minute to gather our thoughts for a day or so. Just as we began to put our feet up, we were hit with a period of about 9 days of over 100 degrees with some days being over 106, and on top of that we began to see a massive smoke plume building to the North West of us from the Mosquito fire. This heat spell would go on to set temperature records for our area this time of year. The intense heat drastically accelerated the ripening process in all of our reds, and we were scrambling to get just the right amount of irrigations to put on the vines to get them through the heat, while not over watering. During this time all of our reds ripened to the parameters we were hoping to pick at seemingly all together at once. We were then faced with the dilemma of trying to get as much fruit off the vine as fast as possible without overworking our hard working vineyard crew on the hottest days of the year. Oh, and I have to mention our friends, the mama bear and bear cub who live in the forest next to our vineyards who I’m pretty sure were trying to eat as many grape clusters as they possibly could every day. All of these factors made for a mad dash to make everything that normally happens in 4-6 weeks of harvest happen in 2 to 3 weeks. Life’s nothing if it’s not exciting… or something like that. Alas we had picked everything except for our Mourvedre. The heat finally let up, and temperatures went down to the mid 80s. It was looking as though we were out of the woods so to speak, with extreme and unusual weather until we saw rain on the forecast. In Mid September we got over three inches of rain with fruit still on the vines. It was an unprecedented rainstorm that I couldn’t have predicted to say the least, but it did really help with getting the Mosquito fire under control.
The last couple notes I want to relay to everyone about this year’s harvest are as follows. One we had our first ever friend, family, club member, and volunteer pick this year, and we’re truly thankful to all who came out and helped us harvest for over 8 hours in the heat that day. We were uncertain as to how the smoke from the Mosquito fire was going to affect us, and without wanting to take any chances we decided to pick our first ever estate Cabernet Franc before there was any risk of smoke impacting the wine. With the help of everyone who came out to pick, I’m happy to report that I haven’t picked up even a hint of smoke in the wine! I also want to acknowledge that this harvest marked the renewed partnership with our long time sister vineyard, the former Reeves Vineyard and Sierra Vista. The now Den Besten Organic Vineyard is under Sierra Vista’s care and management, and we’ll farm this vineyard 100% organically. Keith and Carolyn, the new owners of the former Reeves vineyard are adamant about organic farming and sustainability. We have grafted parts of this vineyard over from Zinfandel to Petite Syrah, Barbera, and Cinsault, and we’ll look to have our first harvest of those varietals next year. Lastly, to give an overview of the 2022 vintage now would be a little premature, but I can’t help but to be excited about how all the wines are coming along, and hope to share them from the barrel and in the bottle with you all in time.
Every harvest has a story, this one was a long one…
Ryan Wright, Sierra Vista Winemaker
If you want to know more about Harvesting check out our YouTube episode on harvesting our grapes right here: https://youtu.be/xOMOAQHuEBo