Harvest is underway across the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area and according to early reports winemakers are excited by what they are seeing.
Overall, due to a late bud-break in spring, coupled with a long heat wave in July and early August, which slows the vines, harvest is roughly two weeks later than normal in the region.
“Usually harvest starts the first or second week of September here at Summerwood,” said winemaker Mauricio Marchant of SummerWood Winery and Inn. SummerWood wines are produced from grapes grown on westside of the Paso AVA, mostly in the Willow Creek and Templeton Gap districts. “The first variety coming off will Grenache Blanc, followed by Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. That being said, we did see three to four weeks in a row (July-August) of 100 degree-plus temperatures, which shuts the vines down. So, things may be delayed this year.”
Grapes used to produce sparkling and white wines were the first to be picked, followed by the red wine grapes.
“We picked Grenache Blanc on Aug. 30 for our new sparkling wine,” said winemaker and owner Bob Tillman of Alta Colina Vineyard and Winery.
Alta Colina sits in the Adelaida District on the northeast side of the Paso Robles AVA. Their vines were planted in 2005 at almost 1,800 feet above sea level in steep terrain. Their first harvest was in 2007. The Rhone house produces three core whites and three core reds.
“After that, we picked our Viognier, the latest we’ve begun picking our whites since 2011,” Tillman said. “Reds are looking closer to mid-to-late September.”
But, the delay may prove a boon, and has winemakers excited about the 2018 vintage. That’s because the current cool end-of-summer temperatures means most grapes will likely see longer hang-times, allowing richer flavors and colors to develop.
Another Rhone producer, Thacher Winery has vineyards of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah on its Vineyard Drive property, but also sources grapes from vineyards on the Westside of Paso Robles and in Southern Monterey County.
“It seems like we are having a longer hang time,” said winemaker and owner Sherman Thacher of Thacher Winery. “A very hot July might have slowed things down. But, unlike last year we have been welcomed with cool weather for the start of harvest, giving us a chance to bring in the whites at their optimum ripeness. This bodes well for the reds, assuming it stays temperate.”
Overall, winemakers are happy with the growing season and the health of the vines.
“Thank goodness the heat of July took a break in August — otherwise we would have surely caught up to the previous hot years,” Tillman said. “As it stands right now, we are on track for a more cooling trend, which will allow that fruit to stay out there longer — creating more color, more flavor, and more goodness.”
Also of note several wineries in Paso Robles this year experimented with shade cloth in the vineyards. The goal of draping vines with mesh cloth is to protect ripening grapes from too much direct sun. Many are reporting the technique a success.
“Post-veraison, when berries turn black, they absorb the sun’s energy and can experience temperatures 10-20 degrees warmer than the ambient air,” Tillman said. “These high temperatures can lead to loss of crucial color and aroma components in the wine. Our shade cloth is designed to block 40 percent and 60 percent of the solar photons, which should help us reduce berry temperature and retain great color and aroma.”
It’s still too early to determine the potential wine quality of the harvest, but winemakers have noted yields are close to normal.
“We are seeing clusters that are looser, meaning there are fewer berries and lighter in weight,” Marchant said. “Berries are average size. Flavors are concentrated and the sugars will depend on the weather from now on. Later varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvédre are at risk of not accumulating all the sugar before the first winter rain. We’ll see!”