2018 harvest comes to a close in Paso Robles AVA

Harvested wine grapes from Thacher Winery and Vineyard. (Photo contributed)

Vintage looking to be a ‘seminal’ year, say growers, winemakers

PASO ROBLES — Overall, wine grapes took longer to ripen this year in the Paso Robles AVA. In fact, many in the industry joked that 2018 was the harvest that wouldn’t end.

Normally, the harvest window is relatively small, but non-stop. While exhausting, the steady flow of picking and processing allows wineries to get into a steady groove. This year, however, was a marathon of fits and starts, with long finger-biting periods of waiting. After all, the longer the harvest, the bigger the chance for damaging rains and frost.

“We were about 10 days later on the Viognier than last year, and north of two weeks later than the years before last,” said kukkula winery winemaker Kevin Jusilla. The winery’s 2015 Aatto landed on Wine and Spirits top 100 wines of 2018 list. “Historically we pick Syrah around mid-August, but last year we picked at the end of August. This year we pulled the last in October.”

Sherman Thacher of Thacher Winery said, “We were a week or so later than last year and three-plus weeks later with certain varieties than the previous two years. Some of our Zinfandel was more than a month later than normal in 2018.”

While delays vexed winery staffers, winemakers say the wait was worth it in terms of overall yield.

“We are about 20 percent above our average, across the board,” said Bob Tillman, of Alta Colina Vineyard and Winery. “This is the best yield we have seen since 2010. The vine buds that became this year’s shoots were formed in 2017, which benefited from the generous winter rains of 2016-17.”

SummerWood Winery and Inn winemaker Mauricio Marchant was surprised with the yield.

“Higher than expected, given that we had to drop a considerable amount of fruit this year, to allow for canopy growth and timely fruit maturity,” he said.

The longer harvest forced winemakers to contend with additional variables.

“Every year we seem to have one or two varietals bounce out of their normal line up,” Thacher said. “Zinfandel was definitely one of those this year. Some of our dry-farmed Zinfandel was picked as much as six weeks later. That dry-farmed Zinfandel — a variety already famous for uneven ripening within the cluster — became even more varied, which gave us some challenging numbers to work with.”

There is an upside as the longer hang times have allowed the grapes to slowly develop more flavors and stronger colors.

“For several years we have been measuring the color concentration of our juice — darker color generally implies higher quality wine,” Tillman said. “This vintage we have experienced a significant jump — 30 to 50 percent — over previous years, boding well for the wines.

“Too early to be definitive, but aromas and colors in the cellar are delightful. I’m very bullish about the quality of the 2018 vintage,” Tillman said.

Normally reticent to predict the quality of a vintage before the wine has time to age, many winemakers say they’re confident 2018 will prove a banner vintage for Paso Robles.

“I generally resist making predictions about the quality of the vintage until several months after getting wines into barrels, but this really feels like a seminal vintage,” Jusilla said. “Grapes easily ripened, pH/TA almost across the board is about as good as it gets, color intensity, and concentration are amazing. The late rains in March, the overall cool growing season, and late harvest seemed all to contribute to really even ripening and high fruit quality.”

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