By Mark Clarin of McGrail Vineyards
2020 has been an interesting year. The growing season has been ideal, beginning with decent rainfall in the winter. We had a warm spring with good conditions during bloom and fruit set. The summer was warm until about the end of August, when the temperatures climbed into the triple digits. We also had a fire in the Livermore Valley due to the lightning strikes, which is the first time we have had to deal with the idea of smoke taint in our wines.
In August, we went to the vineyard and harvested grapes from five different areas of our vineyards into 5 gallon buckets. We used two buckets per pick and washed the clusters into one of the buckets. The other bucket was left au natural. We then yeasted them and fermented them, sampled the wine, and sent the samples to ETS laboratory in St. Helena. The results were interesting, as there was no correlation between the washed grapes versus the unwashed grapes. All of the samples had less than 3 micrograms per liter of guaiacol (smoke flavor) and some were in the 1.3 range. What does this mean? It means we have low risk of smoke flavor in the wines.
We picked 14.5 tons of Sauvignon Blanc on a smoky day, August 22nd. The fire was burning up toward Cedar Mountain. On the 9th of September, we picked 16.7 tons of Chardonnay during an ash cloud event. Then, on the 15th we picked Merlot and Malbec for Rosé. It was a clear day for a change. In all cases, I cold-settled the juice and racked it off before fermenting. As I am recapping, I am tasting the wines with pleasure. So far so good.
We picked our Grenache Blanc on the 17th and our Cabernet Franc on the 19th of September. It was really fun to get out there with some of our tasting room staff and actually pick the fruit and bring it to the winery for processing. Then reality hit us on the 24th and 26th when we harvested the Clone 15 one day and the Clone 8 (both Cabernet Sauvignon from our estate) the other day. Both days were more than 50 bins. Long days in the warm weather. We grabbed the Clone 15 and Clone 30 from the Lucky 8 Vineyard, which turned out to be another 50 plus bin day. So far, the Cabernets have great color and intense flavors. Time will tell us whether the smoke has affected our vintage but I’m feeling pretty good so far. We should be finished harvesting everything by the 20th of October.
Yields have been spot on, with the exception of the Clone 15 at Lucky 8 Vineyard. I miscalculated that block, as it came in heavier than expected. The quality is great. I will have to pay closer attention next year. The young vineyard at Lucky 8 is really coming along now that we are through 4th leaf. Our Chardonnay was about 5 tons per acre and Sauvignon Blanc was almost 7. Our red grapes are closer to 3.5 tons, with the exception of the Clone 15 at Lucky 8, which was just over 4 tons per acre. I am very pleased with the progress in our vineyards and look forward to enjoying some of our wines on the patio soon.
A new harvest season means new tunes.
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