Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fourth and Final Harvest Update

The winemaking team has been furiously busy since I last wrote on Tuesday, October 11th. As you may or may not remember, that was the day after the final rains of this growing season. That Monday was supposed to be dry, and if the weather models had played out as predicted, the pace of this harvest would have been more leisurely. When this vintage is looked back upon in two or three years, as its wines are being released, many people will refer to October 10th as the fulcrum point that tipped the vintage towards its close.

Harvesting started in a panic as many winemakers, this one included, realized the scope of the challenge that the mold pressure presented; a block with trace amounts of botrytis could become completely enveloped in twenty four hours. The thin skin, tight cluster varieties were the first to succumb to the fungus. Petit Sirah and Petit Verdot were particularly hard hit and were triage priority when making pick calls. The Round Pond Estate however, has the fortunate ability to harvest any block any day that’s needed or desired—a resource that proved particularly crucial this year. Throwing courtesy and convention aside, I called many picks the same day I walked out into the fields and realized that another block absolutely must come in. For that I would like to extend many thanks to the vineyard team for their flexibility, and my cellar crew for their tenacity.

Following the rains, we had a string of warm, windless days that were perfect for fungus growth. On the valley floor, the sun heated the saturated soil, which raised the relative humidity in the fields. Those vines trellised in curtain forming fashion trapped the evaporating water and created a sauna-like environment, which further exasperated the tendency for mold to spread. When temperatures fell at night, the surface of the grapes cooled and the trapped moisture below the canopy condensed on the fruit so that by daybreak, the clusters were dripping with dew. Vines trellised in a vertical fashion did not suffer the “sauna effect” and fared better against the mold. Also of note, the more gravely sections of vineyard blocks dried out more quickly, and were subsequently less susceptible to mold pressure.

Winemaking, like any science, is an exercise in observation. Walking the vineyards, it was critical to understand why some blocks were more affected by botrytis than others in order to make decisions on optimizing fruit quality and harvesting efficiency. Having learned from our early picks, it was apparent that the benefit of a few extra days of ripening was negated by the sensory influence the mold had on the wines. As such, I tended to pick at the first signs of mold development, which I believe preserved the fruit character in the grapes and has given us the foundation for producing wonderfully elegant and seductively aromatic wines.

November 1st marked the last day of harvest on the Estate and in that twenty-two day period, the production crew broke records three consecutive times for number of tons processed in a day, and the amount of fruit received at the winery in a week’s span. These statistics do not come as a surprise to me; all vintages at the Estate are fast and furious but late ones, like this year, especially so. Harvest at Round Pond is most certainly a sprint and not a marathon.

Thanks to all of the staff in other departments who came to lend a hand on the sorting line, delivered food and libations, or simply gave a kind word of encouragement. Those sentiments never go unnoticed and are certainly appreciated. I look forward to sharing our collective efforts with everyone in the years to come, and feel the climatic challenges of this vintage will prove to be a historic bellwether for the exceptional consistency of quality achievable on this Estate.


Brian Brown
Round Pond Estate

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