Harvest Time in the Central Coast

This week has been crazy. I received a last minute call to join in the making of some educational wine videos, for a new wine education program (that is a "teaser" which will be elaborated on in the coming weeks). The video shoots were to begin at 5:00am in the Central Coast, as one of my favorite wineries was beginning to pick Sauvignon Blanc.

Volgelzang Sauv Blanc
I left my house in the dark, in hopes of missing the Los Angeles traffic (no luck). I arrived at the Vogelzang Vineyard (Happy Canyon AVA) about fifteen minutes after Dragonette Cellars had finished picking their second round of Sauvignon Blanc. After grabbing a quick bite, I met up with my two wine buddies, and we headed over to the new winery location for Dragonette Cellars, just in time to see the truck and trailer full of freshly picked Sauvignon Blanc arrive.

Dragonette Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
The bins of grape bunches were quickly moved into the cool facility, to avoid any unnecessary heat. The morning temperatures had already faded from the cool 50's to the mid 80's by around 11:00am. The small bunches of Sauvignon Blanc were sweet, and the pips (seeds) had turned from green to brown. A good sign of nice phenolic ripeness.

The plastic bins of grapes were hoisted by fork lift, and dumped into the new Europress (a bladder press) and gently pressed to release the juice. The grapes were not destemmed. This was a whole cluster pressing.

A whole cluster press is just what it sounds like...the grapes are left in their bunches, when put into the press. This actually produces a smoother tasting juice. The grapes are not bruised or damaged, as they would be when destemmed. Since we are only extracting juice, there is no added flavor from the stems and seeds, unless over pressed. In this case, the bladder press went through seven cycles of light pressing. Every so often the juice that dripped from the bottom of the press, was tasted to make sure no bitter component from the stems or seeds was present.

Fermenting Sauv Blanc
After the juice had been extracted, it was destine for oak barrels. A pressing from a few days earlier was already in barrel, and the fermentation process was well underway. The bubbling up through the bung holes in the barrel were a sure sign that things were moving in the right direction.

Meanwhile, a number of large tanks of Pinot Noir (picked the previous day) were in the cooler. The berries had been covered with sulfur, to prevent bacteria growth, and left in the cooler to extract as much color from the thin skinned grapes as possible. As of this day, only two pickings of Sauvignon Blanc, and one picking of Pinot Noir had occurred. This year's harvest is about two weeks ahead of the 2012 harvest, but hang time remained about the same, due to an early fruit set.

Pinot Noir at Melville
We next traveled over to the Santa Rita Hills AVA, for some photos of Pinot Noir. The Melville Winery has about 16 different Pinot Noir Clones. It didn't appear that they had started harvest there yet, but some of the grapes were already suffering from the high heat and humidity,

The next day was spent in Paso Robles. The red grapes are not ready for harvest yet. In particular, we spent time checking on Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Sirah. In every case, the grape pips were still green, and the full sweetness was not there. At Barr Estate Winery, the Albarino grapes had already been picked, and were in stainless steel tanks. The sediment was settling out, leaving behind a clarified juice.

Red Blotch Virus on Zinfandel
One thing I did notice on this trip to Paso Robles is something that is a bit disturbing. There is a new virus that was identified in 2012, called Red Blotch. It is very noticeable in certain Zinfandel vineyards. At this point, they believe it is transferred by some type of insect, but no one is sure what the vector is, and there is no cure. Basically the leaves on the vine turn from green to red, and the photosynthesis process stops, leaving poor quality grapes. On top of this, it has been a very hot and dry growing season in Paso Robles. This day, it was very humid, and the temperatures were already over 100 degrees by noon.

Cabernet Sauv at Barr Estate Winery
My quick trip to the Central Coast was a whirlwind. We got some great video, and met with some of the outstanding winemakers and vineyard growers in the area. As a wine educator, I always learn something new on every visit, and this trip was an extraordinary learning adventure....as you will find out, once I can talk more about the videos. Stay tuned!

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