Harvest 2018 - A Steady End to an Ideal Season

Harvest 2018 - A Steady End to an Ideal Season
The 2018 vintage began as a tale of two winters. January and well into February were unusually warm and trending drier than the previous two years. Early bud break was a concern until the season began a rainy and cool trend that lasted through most of March. This resulted in pushing back the start of the growing season into a more “normal” time frame compared with recent vintages. 

Our earlier ripening varieties like Viognier and some of the younger blocks of Syrah budded out in late March and early April. Varieties that are slightly later such as Grenache, and late-ripening such as Roussanne and Mourvèdre, followed later in April (except for some younger high-density blocks of Mourvèdre which budded earlier than normal). Weather during April and May was cool and windy, which slightly disrupted pollination and fruit set, before moving into the more ideal conditions of summer. The overall character of the growing season was one of moderately warm days, cool nights, extended cooling patterns, and general avoidance of heat spikes. In short, weather patterns were idyllic, and the timing of the growing season played out in much the same way that it started – three to four weeks later than the previous several vintages and much more in a traditional time frame.

Veraison and harvest conditions were ideal, allowing for slow and steady ripening. According to our winemaker Kristin Bryden, “Patience was key this harvest. Despite one early rain during the harvest season, the weather has been  accommodating, and the past month of warm temperatures has pushed everything to the finish line. There were no drastic heat events, so flavors developed in-line with the brix.” Kristin assesses the vintage as promising overall for both whites and reds. 

The two-month harvest season started on September 12th with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido Vineyard for our Homage program. Estate fruit began the following day with Viognier. Syrah, with our variety of clones and sites on the estate, began as early as September 21st (old-vine Syrah from our Black Bear Block was picked on October 6th). Grenache began on September 27th with fruit from our 25-year-old Mariposa C Block picked early for our Rosé program. The last pick of the year was Cabernet Sauvignon from Happy Canyon Vineyard on November 6th. 

In mid-November, Kristin guided me through the cellar for an early assessment of the 2018 vintage:

Viognier – Our Foxen A Block picked on September 15th showed nice expression, rich texture and layers. We tasted two samples from Cushman E Block, one picked early, showing nervy citrus fruit but with ample texture, and another picked weeks later, with more expressive fruit and further development of texture. These are the building blocks for our Estate Viognier. Kristin is excited about the bright intensity and expression in the fruit and feels that our Viognier will benefit this vintage from a few extra months in barrel to fully integrate these elements.

Grenache Blanc – Our estate Grenache Blanc in 2018 will go exclusively into our Z Blanc blend. From barrel, it is showing vivid citrus notes and minerality along with ample acidity that will round out with aging. 

Pinot Blanc – Our Pinot Blanc from Bien Nacido Vineyard was picked at 21.0 brix, showing beautifully complex notes of crisp melon fruit, honeysuckle florals and hints of earth, along a rich texture. In barrel, we’re aging the wine on lees with batonnage (stirring) to allow oxygen to enrich its texture. 

Chardonnay – We’re further developing our Chardonnay program in 2018, with selections from Sierra Madre Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley and Zotovich Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills. The Sierra Madre Chardonnay was picked at 22.6 brix and will undergo approximately 25% malolactic fermentation. We tasted a barrel that will not undergo ML, showing expressive and rich notes of citrus, acacia and stone-minerals. The Zotovich Chardonnay was picked at 21.8 brix and will undergo full malolactic, which was occurring in barrel at the time. The wine showed terrific structure, crisp citrus fruit, stone-mineral notes, earthy spices and florals. According to Kristin, this one is “special,” – she’s excited!

Grenache Rosé – Picked from our estate vineyard at 22 brix. We tasted portions from both neutral barrel and stainless-steel tank. The barrel portion showed expressive strawberry fruit and spice notes, along with round texture. The stainless-steel portion showing crisp red fruit with well-integrated bright acid. While our rosé is primarily derived from stainless steel, the neutral barrel portion will add roundness to the wine’s texture and acidity.

Roussanne – While we didn’t taste our Estate Roussanne from barrel, Kristin remarked “the Roussanne was amazingly flavorful on the vine, not usually the case with Roussanne. I can’t wait to watch this wine evolve in barrel.”

Pinot Noir – Barrel samples from blocks 45a/c and N-2 at Bien Nacido Vineyard were picked at around 23 brix. Clone 115 showed crisp red fruits – strawberry and pomegranate, with pretty elegance on the palate. While Swan clone showed richer berry and fig fruit, with greater firmness and size to the structure. The complementing profiles will create our Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Grenache – Estate Vineyard, Cushman F block, tasted from concrete. This was fermented in closed-top fermenters at cooler temperatures, and showed bright berry fruit, anise and dried herb, over fine structure with pretty finesse. 

Mourvèdre – We tasted three clonal selections from barrel, from two different estate vineyard blocks. Spanish clone from our Chapel G Block displayed savory and pungent dried herb and dark berry notes over a big structure. Tablas clone from the same block showed floral and rosemary finesse complimenting its dark fruit. Our youngest planting of Mourvèdre, the Foxen E Block, showed the meaty savory side of the grape – sanguine and iron with black fruit and dark spices, with the fruit popping nicely on the palate. According to Kristin, “the Mourvèdre has been the head turner during fermentation, the aromas are complex, and the tannins are round.”

Syrah – Last but certainly not least, we sampled three clones of Syrah from three different vineyard blocks from our vineyard. From Chapel G3, clone 3 from barrel stood out with silky and rich structure, showing notes of cassis and dried herbs. Chapel G6 Alban clone from barrel was much darker and savory, with boysenberry fruit, smoked meat notes and savory spices. Mesa C3 is Estrella clone planted in 2012 with cuttings from the Black Bear Block – from barrel it shows early notes of black fruits, brambly earth and dried herb, bright on the palate with great depth and a stately elegance to the structure. Mesa A is a hillside block of Estrella clone (we tasted this directly from the open-top fermenter, as the wine was still undergoing extended maceration). The wine showed similar dark fruit and earth, with complex smoked meat notes and savory spices along an elegant structure. Kristin felt strongly about this selection from Mesa A being a potential backbone of our Estrella Syrah bottling. 

As we raise these wines, we’re encouraged with what Mother Nature has given us in 2018. We look forward to sharing them with you in the coming years!

-- Matt Mauldin | WSET Advanced | Wholesale Sales Manager