Monday, November 17th, 2014
Harvest is a funny thing sometimes. In the midst of picking and fermenting the wine it feels like it will never end, but then one day all the fruit is off, and a few weeks later the last fermenters are drained and barreled. I find myself with so much less to do that I am often at a loss about what exactly to do with myself in the first weeks postpartum as it were. Harvest demands countless decisions that must be made every day. The balance of the winemaking year the decisions are much more considered.
I’m happy with this year’s wines. While it’s very early, too early in fact, to make definitive pronouncements about what the wines will become, you can see in these infants the shape of the wines that they will grow into. The Pinot Noir is solid. Colors and flavors cover a wide range from delicate to brawny and there will be much to choose from when it comes time to make the blends. I think the Syrahs will be the stars of the vintage. The unusually early year allowed the Rhone varieties to come to complete ripeness. The white wines across the board look wonderful. Chardonnay more than any variety responds positively to low crop levels, and this year’s crop was very low. The Sauvignon Blanc, which is always temperamental, is quite nice with lots of character. The Viognier, much more reliable year in and year out, is tasty and perfumed. We made a Rose of Pinot Noir once again, and I’m pleased with both the flavors and the color. It’s harder than you think to get the color correct on this wine. We also produced tiny quantities of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir Blanc. Both are delicious and intriguing at this point.
I’m looking forward to how these wines will develop in the cellar. This year was the earliest harvest of my career, and I expect that the wines will have some unique characteristics as a result.
Thursday, August 21st, 2014
2014 “Lily Gil” block 596
The first fruit of the season was harvested a week ago, but that block, 593, is an outlier. It is very early every year because of the soil structure. The real harvest began early this week with the picking of block 596 (grapes pictured) on our Mountainside Vineyard. This is our largest block of quality Pinot Noir. Tolosa takes 16 of the 25 acres in this block. Both of these blocks are the Pommard selection, named after the famous commune in Burgundy. This selection’s tendency to make wines well-structured in tannin may be the reason it was named in honor of Pommard, which also is rich in tannin. So far the crop looks moderate in size, neither big nor small. The individual berries are a bit on the large size due to ideal bloom conditions and the subsequent high seed count. The weather conditions of the last few weeks leading up to harvest have been quite favorable. The dense morning fog seems more June-like than an August-like pattern, but I would much rather have the fruit’s final ripening happen under cool rather than hot conditions. The cool weather allows the slow accumulation of sugars while still preserving the freshness that I feel is essential in young wines. The cooler conditions have also allowed the seeds time to ripen which should make for a more supple tannin in the wine.
The earliness that has typified this harvest has if anything, intensified. Normally we harvest Pinot Noir between 110 and 12o days after full bloom. This year we are seeing that number being pushed down into the 100 to 110 day range for some of the Pinot Noir blocks. Not only did this growing season begin early, it now looks like it is shifting even earlier. It will be fascinating to see what sort of wines result. The only fermenter that is dry and tastable from block 593, had a normal length ripening of 113 days from bloom to harvest. Thus it may not express the vintage character as strongly as some of the blocks we are picking this week, which will result in a more compressed ripening. In 10 days or so, I’ll have a much better idea of what the 2013 Pinot Noir vintage will taste like.
—Larry Brooks, Tolosa Winemaker
Monday, July 7th, 2014
We are right at the beginning of the ripening period for the vines. The red grapes show the start of this phase very obviously by turning from green to red. The French term for this is veraison. There’s no equivalent English word. In white grapes the change is more subtle. The berries soften a bit and the color shifts from bright green to a sort of yellowish green. This ripening period from now to harvest takes 4-6 weeks and it is the most crucial period in the vine’s cycle in terms of the quality and character of the vintage. The start of this phase has been dominated by lots of fog and moderate temperature, which are typical of this time of year. My fingers are crossed that this pattern holds as long as possible, because this allows the grapes to mature while maintaining maximum freshness and acidity. This vintage has been early at every phase. This is the earliest season I have ever seen in my long career. There’s an old adage, “early years get earlier, and late years get later”. It makes sense when you think about it. We are almost a full month ahead of average so the amount of daylight hours is much longer than it would typically be for this ripening phase. The vines are active more hours of the day and therefore will ripen the fruit more quickly. Late July and early August are when winemakers and viticulturists typically take vacation as it’s not a busy time. Carlos, our viticulturist, and I were talking yesterday. We were both laughing about having to change our normal vacation times.
Larry Brooks, Winemaker
Tuesday, May 6th, 2014
The vines in our Estate vineyards began blooming a couple weeks ago. Once this stage of development starts I need to visit the blocks I’m using to track exactly when and how they flower, and when they set the fruit. There are close to 30 blocks that I use for the Tolosa wines, and they need to be looked at weekly to follow what going on. This is not a tough assignment when it’s at the height of spring weather, and it’s first thing in the morning before the winds start blowing like crazy! Paying close attention to the vines at this stage is important for a number of reasons; it gives you an idea of the size of the crop that will be coming in September, it tells you how uniform a particular block of vines will be in its ripeness, it lets you know within a week or so exactly when you will be picking the blocks (110-120 days after bloom), and it starts the clock for other phases of fruit development that you may wish to monitor. There is also slight floral perfume when a block is in full bloom that is only available to enjoy for a day or so that I would hate to miss.
Monday, February 24th, 2014
We are certainly in a serious statewide drought here in California. It looks like the driest stretch in about 500 years, and it is without doubt the driest since records have been kept, 150 years or so in most locations. There have been historical super droughts that can be seen in tree ring records that have been 10-20 years in length, but that’s just too scary to even contemplate.
It needs to be borne in mind that local conditions and resources are extremely important. Just look at local municipalities in our county. Cambria, a small coastal hamlet to the north of us is on track to be pretty much out of water in late spring or early summer, the City of San Luis Obispo on the other hand has a seven and a half year supply at the moment. Different areas of the state have been more or less proactive about both conserving and storing water so the effects are varied. Mostly urban water will be prioritized, and no one expects that major city supplies will run dry. Very small towns may struggle, but will in general find solutions. Agriculture is another story. Ag uses about 80% of the water in California. Much of that is used in historically arid and warm interior areas where canals and pipe systems bring water specifically for crop use. A lot of these interior ag areas served by Federal and State water projects are in for a rough year. Recent rains in Northern California have helped the Sierra snowpack, but it is unlikely it will reach average this year.
Viticulture in general is conservative in its use of water compared to other crops. Grapevines are naturally drought tolerant, I personally worked with a dry farmed vineyard through the last major drought in ’86-’92, and that vineyard survived just fine. Grapevines use far less water even when fully supplied than most other crops. They use about a ¼ of what row crops use for example. Winegrowers in coastal areas have used drip irrigation for years, which is the most efficient system from a water conservation point of view.
Here most locally we depend on underground aquifers for our water. The Edna Valley has a relatively shallow aquifer, but it recharges easily because of the large area of hills around it that drains down into it. This aquifer had been in good balance for a long time. Unlike Paso Robles just north of us where the aquifer has been overdrawn for many years before the current drought.
We had to put winter irrigations on this year to keep the roots moist which is unusual, but the aquifer is in good shape at the moment. We can expect more rain for the next 4-8 weeks after which we will assess the situation. We do not absolutely need more rain in order to irrigate the vines, but we do need rain to flush out the soils and refresh them. When you irrigate salts tend to build up in the top layer of the soil. This has to be carried out of the root zine by rainfall. There’s virtually no way for us to flush the soils ourselves using irrigation. Only generous rainfall will accomplish this.
Water conservation is one aspect of our green and sustainable initiatives here at Tolosa. It was the first practice we put into place many years ago. Every drop of water that the winery uses is treated through a three pond system until it is clean enough to be returned to the vines.
– Tolosa Winemaker, Larry Brooks