Minimal impact from smoke and heat spikes during the historic wildfire season
PASO ROBLES — The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRWCA) announced the end of the 2020 harvest in the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA), reporting that the vintage is showing exceptional quality amid a challenging year.
Yields were varietally dependent, with an average of 10 to 30% down. Grape quality across the board is being reported as excellent with intense flavor development and great color. Reports are that 2020 will be recognized as a banner year for the Paso Robles wine region.
The Paso Robles AVA was well removed from any immediate fire danger throughout California’s historic fire season of 2020. Atmospheric smoke from the River Fire in Salinas, the Dolon Fire in Big Sur — both to the north — and the Creek Fire in the Sierras — to the north-east — had kept air quality very poor. However, no fresh smoke settled into the vineyards. Through micro-ferments, some vintners reported extremely low measurements of smoke taint before harvest beginning in earnest. However, all reports after that were in small, isolated cases that were well below threshold levels.
“The Paso Robles AVA is very fortunate to have been able to not be affected by this record-breaking year of wildfires in California. Our location along the central coast of the state had us removed from any overarching effects of smoke,” said Joel Peterson, Executive Director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. “Our hearts go out to wine communities affected by these devastating fires.”
Budbreak came a little on the late side due to late-season rainfall. Zero frost issues hampered the beginning of bud break, which was followed by a temperate May and June. July proved to be cooler than average, which helped flowering happen under good conditions and strengthen vine health. Conditions changed decidedly in August and September, which were 20% warmer than average. Two separate weeks of record heat, one in mid-August and one in early September, also featured the atmospheric smoke, which delayed ripening on some ranches.
Harvest began in the last week of August with early ripening varieties. In August and September, the heat spikes caused some vineyards to pick varieties not typically ready at that time, which was around 10 days earlier than normal. September into October continued to be warm yet averaging on what would be considered normal conditions. Wineries are reporting high acidity, exceptional flavor development, and deep color extraction that will all lead to a well-balanced 2020 vintage.
“Despite the challenges of 2020 with a global pandemic, a historic wildfire season, and a hotter than average late summer, the Paso Robles AVA and its winemakers and winegrowers have been able to once again achieve their goal of creating world-class wines,” said Tyler Russell, Owner and Winemaker of Cordant | Nelle and Chairman of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Board of Directors. “Through this all, we also have other regions heavy in our hearts who didn’t fare as well due to the wildfires. It is indeed, a historic year.”
COVID-19 brought a halt to in-person activity in the Paso Robles wine region for events and tasting room visits until protocols were put in place for outdoor activities. Large in-person events continue not to be allowed. Farming and production were never halted, although safety protocols were put in place for persons working in these capacities, including personal protective equipment, staggered shifts, and work pods. The atmospheric smoke during the wildfires and the heat waves created challenging working conditions for vineyard workers, which were mitigated by work stoppage or altering hours. These extenuating circumstances did not negatively affect harvest as wineries brought in fruit when it was ready, safely and appropriately.
Winemaker Quotes from Around the Paso Robles Wine Region.
Cris Cherry, Owner/Winemaker
Villa Creek Cellars
Maha Estate Vineyard
“The 2020 vintage is a solid vintage on the West side of Paso Robles. Overall, fruit quality was high, with acids being a bit lower than normal, which was welcomed. Several heat spikes caused a slightly lighter crop due to desiccation, which was sorted out, and we saw no evidence of smoke taint. Our thoughts go out to our peers to the North who were not as fortunate due to the many fires that consumed portions of Monterey, Napa, and Sonoma counties.”
Director of Winemaking
Miller Family Wine Company
“We were keenly aware of the potential impact that smoke taint could have on our fruit as we were harvesting from Paso Robles and Paso Robles Highlands, so took all possible precautions both in the vineyard and in the winery to fend off any issues. As such, our resulting wines from vintage 2020 show no signs of smoke taint or any deleterious effects from the California fires. Quite the opposite, in fact, as our 2020 wines are very concentrated and expressive of the appellations. We are quite pleased with the quality of the 2020 vintage.”
Epoch Estate Wines
“As a winemaker on the Central Coast, the worries were piling on before the beginning of vintage 2020 with concerns about the virus, smoke, and heat all culminating around the end of August, beginning of September. But once the grapes started rolling in, I know we all breathed a sigh of relief when we realized the grapes were of good yield and quality, and the fermentations were progressing normally. I know I speak on behalf of many when I say I feel so lucky to be making wine in an area that was minimally impacted by fires and we are hoping only marginally by smoke.”
Le Cuvier Winery
“For me, every vintage presents its own unique challenges, and this year was no different. We were exceptionally fortunate to hit our projections and bring in more than a few exciting lots of fruit from blocks that exceeded expectations. On the flip side of the coin, there were some grapes that disappointed, with lessons to be learned and adjustments to be made in our vineyard management approach for future years. I don’t believe you can ever expect perfection. It is farming, after all. All we can do is our best and strive to capture that special place in time.”
Owner / Winemaker
J Dusi Wines
“Yields in 2020 were below average, but quality seems good. Just a hell of a year!”
Ancient Peaks Winery
“Conditions were cooler than usual through mid-August, but two late-summer heatwaves kicked things into a higher gear. It was great for extraction, although we had to work harder to maintain acidity. It’s too early to call it, but we are very excited about how the young wines are tasting.”
Jada Vineyard and Winery
“The 2020 vintage was full of surprises. We experienced a very cool winter, followed by warmer than average nighttime temperatures in the spring, lasting through harvest, and four massive heat waves, peaking at 113F at our Jada Estate Vineyard. Despite these challenges, I was happy to find that the acid remained balanced in most of our blocks, resulting in a vintage full of colorful wines with aromatic complexity and freshness.”
Villa San Juliette Vineyard and Winery
“In true 2020 fashion, we picked the first grapes of the season in sketchy circumstances. Record heatwaves and devasting wildfires inundated the region with lingering smoke for days. But the smoke cleared, and despite above-average temperatures for the remainder of the season, the resulting wines from this harvest are flavorful, elegant, and full of promise as they begin to age in barrel. This vintage may be the only thing we wish to remember from this year.”