Monday, August 30, 2010

Farming in "real-time" at Trefethen Family Vineyards

Harvest 2010 has officially begun at Trefethen Family Vineyards! At 6:20 this morning, as the sun rose over the Vaca mountains to the east, taking the chill out of the 45-degree air, we picked our first Pinot Noir grapes of the year. Growing more than we need for our estate winery, we sell about 1/3 of the grapes from our estate vineyards to other local wineries. And, as always, this first harvest is for one of our sparkling winery partners because they depend on grapes with lower sugars and higher acids.

Note the blurry hands as Eleuterio "Teo" Gonzalez cuts each Pinot cluster off with lightening speed. Eleuterio, a Trefethen team member since 1996, has always been one of our fastest pickers. And that's saying something. This morning, I checked our pick rate after a couple hours. Across the three crews, we averaged 600 pounds per picker, per hour. Considering that these clusters weigh about 0.20 lbs each, that's an incredible 3,000 clusters per hour or 50 per minute! And Eleuterio is going faster than average!?! Now, I should probably add that we can't keep this rate up during hot weather or in vineyard blocks that have fewer clusters per vine. Furthermore, keeping the pickers picking requires a strong support staff that, among other tasks, makes sure an empty box is always within reach (and offers some cool drinking water to boot). Nonetheless, I think you'll agree those numbers are quite impressive.

We expect to continue picking Pinot for sparkling wine over the next few days and then enjoy a brief break before we get into Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for still wines. Looking at the sample numbers from this morning, Malbec is already reaching 20 degrees brix and may be coming in with those other early varieties. As has been widely reported, this has been a relatively cool vintage with the notable exceptions of last week's heat spell and a nice warm forecast for this week. Here at Trefethen, we took action early in the season to accelerate ripening after seeing some delay as early as April and May. These steps, such as leaving cover crop growing, severely limiting irrigation and thinning both earlier and more aggressively than usual, have helped the vines progress nicely.

The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are running around 10-14 days late and the Cabernet, thanks to our "intervention", is only expected to be 7-10 days late. That said, I always cringe when asked if a season is early or late or if we got more or less than our average rainfall. On my office wall, I have weather data for our estate going back to 1968 when the Trefethen family purchased the property. You know what? In 42 years of winegrowing, we've never had an "average" year. Of course not. It's always wetter or drier, warmer or cooler.. such is the nature of the beast. And, because of that, we never farm for an "average" year. Instead, we farm in real-time, constantly adjusting to the weather at hand - and that's how great wine is crafted, year in and year out. Okay, time for me to get off my soapbox and back into the vineyard.. Cheers to vintage 2010!

Jon Ruel
Director of Viticulture and Winemaking
Trefethen Family Vineyards

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