The Hardscrabble Journal

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For the last week I have been obsessed by the tracking of hurricanes Jose and Maria, well aware of the potential massive rains that they could inflict on our vineyards. Fortunately my staff understands the ramifications and therefor knows that I’m really not a nut job the way I keep changing my mind as to picking decisions. Turns out that Jose and Maria will stay off shore. In fact their positioning will be responsible for a very positive side effect of pumping warm, dry air into the mid-Atlantic for the next week. We are taking full advantage of our luck by delaying Merlot harvest until next week. This will be the ripest Merlot we have picked since 2010.

Yesterday we picked the old vine Hardscrabble Chardonnay and “Rosé”. The Chardonnay was worth the wait. Flavors had turned a corner and acid calmed down. This should be an important component of the Hardscrabble Chardonnay. We have five distinct blocks of Chardonnay on the Hardscrabble site. All five don’t necessary make it to the flagship wine. We will decide the blend next year.

Our Rosé pick is complicated as it involves all three vineyards and four grape varieties (Merlot, Cab. Franc, Cab. Sauv, and a bit of Petit Verdot). We pick parts of blocks, corners, edges, and designated rows. This year all the Hardscrabble Cabernet Franc went to Rosé. We started seeing berry dehydration that would probably prevent the CF from achieving the full maturity needed to make a great red wine. I think that it it a result of the dry June and July, as the vines struggles for water and nutrients. We are working with VA Tech on doing some forensics with plant tissue analysis.

Lucky Weather Break

Seems that Jose and Maria will stay off shore. This is a major relief. Very warm days and nights have accelerated ripening. We will crush a small amount of Boisseau Petit Verdot today, and then get serious in terms of quantities harvested. Tomorrow we finally harvest the 33 year old Chardonnay vines. This will be one of the best lots brought in. We’ll also do our rose pick which will include a bit of Boisseau Merlot and Cabernet Franc (from the lower sections of the vineyard), one row of Avenius Petit Verdot (the row close to the tree-line), and the vigorous sections of Hardscrabble Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Merlot is next up: probably the weekend or early next week. Some really beautiful flavors and concentration here.

Time for Reds (and Chardonnay and Rosé)

After a bit of rest and regrouping, we’ll be back at it this week. Today Jonathan and I will be putting the fermenting Chardonnay in barrels. First we will rack (transfer) the 2016 Hardscrabble Chardonnay from barrel to tank. Once the barrels are clean and available, the 2017 Chardonnays will fill them (along with others). This year we purchased two 350 liter barrels (standard barrel is 228 liter). The larger the barrels, the less impact the wood has on the wine.

Tuesday we will start the red harvest at Boisseau Vineyard. Just a day or two ago it looked like we would have a leisurely harvest, but now Hurricane Maria is speaking to me. At this point there are lots of unknowns about any impact on us, but I have to take the possibility into account. We have a lot of grapes in the ‘window’ of ripeness: Boisseau Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot; Avenius and Hardscrabble Merlot; Hardscrabble old vine Chardonnay; and Rose blocks (mostly CS). I would not want any of these to go through a remnant rain. At the same time I would like to get as much ripeness as possible. Can’t bring them all in at the last minute, so need to start soon.

Waiting

We are now in waiting for more grapes to ripen. Cooler temperatures have slowed maturation. This is good for wine quality. It is also good for us as we have had a chance to catch up in the cellar and vineyard.  We are preparing equipment for red grape crush equipment. Soon we will be putting Chardonnay in barrels. In the vineyard, leaf removal in the fruit zone has become a priority in order to hasten ripening and as a precaution against any wet weather that could cause bunch rot.

Next up should be Boisseau Reds and some Merlot from Avenius and Hardscrabble. The sugars and acids are about there, but the skins are tough. Next week’s predicted warm, dry conditions would be ideal.

Regroup

The first big push is over. Bottom line is that we picked and pressed all the grapes that were ripe before the onset of Irma. We have some very nice white wines fermenting. But what happened to Irma? We were lucky as Irma fell apart before impacting our area. Looks like a few showers today and tomorrow, but nothing that will have any substantial impact on the grapes still on the vines. Today I’ll walk the vineyard and take grape samples for lab analysis. Next up to bat will be rose. Merlot to follow in a week or two.

As is always the case after a long, intense crush run, the cellar is disheveled to put it mildly. Nice to have a couple of days to put things together. After lots of cleaning and re-wiring, we should have our old destemmer back in action by tomorrow. This old guy has no electronics to fry. I hate having equipment that I can’t fix, a lesson I seem to need to learn over and over again.

The silver lining is that plan B worked remarkably well. With no destemmer for the last two crush days, we whole cluster pressed Avenius Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc along with some Hardscrabble Chardonnay. The juice quality was excellent along with juice yields (the volume of juice coming from a ton of grapes was up about 5%). Nice to have this as an option.

in the Barn

Today is the last “hurricane pick” day. We will be bringing in some, but not all of the Hardscrabble old vine Chardonnay. Frankly, I would like it to be a bit riper, but one section of the block has some bunch rot that could explode if we get the forecasted 3 or 4 days of lingering rain later this week. The oldest vines (planted in 1985), which are lower vigor and have less rot seem like they could “weather the weather”. Looks like we will not get much accumulation from Irma, but will get on and off damp conditions, When we are not picking or crushing we will be continuing leaf pulling Merlot and then Cabernet so that the area around the cluster zone is well aerated and will dry more quickly after a rain shower, reducing the chance of rot.

Yesterday was a “plan B” day on the crush pad. The destemmer would not start. My great fear of mixing electronics and lots of water came true (at least I think that is the problem). We decided to bypass the destemmer and crusher and go directly to press with the whole clusters. It is actually a common technique, but we are not really set up for it (we would need much larger presses as one can only get half the amount of grapes in a press if they are not de-stemmed and crushed). I was pleased with the juice quality, but it made an anticipated short day into a long one. So now all the Avenius and Boisseau white grapes are off the vine and in the cellar.

We can limp along without a destemmer for the rest of the whites, but it is critical for the reds. I may have to bring back into service our retired destemmer from the 1990’s. It hasn’t been used for years. Don’t have a Plan C, but at least we have a few weeks before the reds are ready to pick.

Wild but Wonderful

This is the crush mode that I remember from the not so ‘good old days’. Its been physically and mentally challenging. We have so many lots of wines in fermenters, that I have to use different colors of labeling tape to ID lots, otherwise we get too confused as to what is where. Everyone is dragging, but everyone has been through this before and understands why we have to push. Irma. She’s been teasing us for days now in terms of tracking and forecasted impact. The amount of rain is one factor, but the weather behind her is even more important. It was predicted that she would pass through quickly with cool drying conditions to follow. Now she could stall. This is not good news.

The conundrum is old vine Hardscrabble Chardonnay. This block is the crown jewel of Linden’s flagship wine. It ripens much later that all the other blocks of Chardonnay. While we have (or will by the end of today) picked all the Chardonnay, the old vines are not as ripe as I would like. The clusters are tight, making the highly rot susceptible. I’m inclined to pick part of the block now and wait and get more info on Irma’s track over the next few days. A nail biter for sure.

Irma Plan

We had a good crush day yesterday. Very pleased with the juice quality, especially Avenius Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It rained off and on all day, which is always a bit depressing for winegrowers, but the business of crush helped keep our minds off of the weather.

Today and for the next four or five days look like fabulous weather. This helps a lot as we will be in full harvest and crush mode through Monday. We need to bring in any grapes that are in the window of ripeness as the remnants of Irma will probably bring us copious amounts of rain starting on Monday or Tuesday. Our goal is to have all the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling “in the barn” before Irma. We will pick today and Friday morning, crush Friday afternoon, pick on Saturday and Sunday, then crush again on Monday. Then we will sleep.

Off and Running (con’t)

Now it feels like harvest. The cooler is being filled with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. I was too tired to make a decent dinner, but still managed to enjoy a glass of 2014 Grand Cru Chablis for information and inspiration. At this stage of the vintage we are looking at high acidities due to cool ripening conditions. High acid wines need ripeness and weight to achieve balance. The Domaine des Malandes Vaudesir demonstrated this in spades.

Yesterday and today we are doing partial picking in all blocks. We are hedging our bets. The riper parts of the blocks are picked due to soil or vine age differences. We’ll pick the rest in a week or so (depending on Irma’s track). Wednesday’s rain is of concern, but again, with cooler temperatures predicted, I’m hoping for minimal impact.

Today we pick some of the Avenius SB and Chardonnay. The fruit is in great shape, so we will only pick about a third of the total hoping the rest makes it through the rain with minimal rot so it can take advantage of the glorious predicted weather for the end of the week and weekend.

 

Off and Running

Today marks the beginning of the big push. Cool, wet weather has slowed ripening, so it has been a week since we last picked. Today we start with young vine Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. We will pick over the next two days, chill the grapes in our cooler, then crush on Wednesday (predicted to be a rainy day). We will probably resume harvest on Thursday or Friday. Hurricane Irma has me very concerned as the tracking in not in our favor. I’m preparing for a massive ‘hurricane pick’ later in the week if it looks like we will get tropical rains from Irma. These warm, constant rains can be devastating, especially to SB, Riesling, and Chardonnay which are at a very rot susceptible stage.

Fortunately the remnants of Harvey had little impact on the fruit as we only received 4/10 of an inch under very cool temperatures. This has confirmed my theory that temperature has a major impact on rot susceptibility under rainy or damp conditions. The predicted rain on Wednesday will also be cool.

While the weather conditions have made harvest decisions somewhat stressful this year, flavors and balance in the grapes are really coming together. A few weeks ago I was concerned that we would experience another hot harvest period that produces healthy grapes, but less complexity in the whites. That will not be the case for 2017.