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It’s Squeezin’ Season! ~ A Harvest Update

September 26th, 2017

It’s our favorite time of the year!  Here’s an article originally published in Wines & Vines that gives a great overview of harvest in Temecula Valley this year.

Temecula, Calif. – Despite a heat wave and unusual rains, the vintners and growers of Southern California’s Temecula Valley are generally pleased with the quality of fruit coming in this harvest season.

At South Coast Winery, Winemaker Jon McPherson oversees 56,000 annual case production of primarily Rhone and Spanish varietal wines, all estate-grown. The winery accounts for a large portion of Temecula’s 1,300 acres planted to wine grapes.

“It was great, early on,” McPherson said of summer temperatures, which remained in the 70s and 80s during the day and 50s and 60s at night, even as his team picked Pinot Noir for sparkling wine on July 17. “Then, that last week of August, we had the crazy heat that the rest of the state experienced, followed by a lot of monsoonal influence from northern Mexico and Arizona, with moisture fed by the hurricane off of Baja.”

Those conditions led to late-afternoon rains for two days, he said, with as many as 2” of rain falling in parts of the valley. “Most of our varieties hanging at the time were Bordelais, so they weren’t too badly affected,” he said. “We did have Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc out there, and we saw some rot issues start to manifest as we got into picking, but it dried up pretty quickly. Mostly, the heat just sped everything up. For those ten days, we were trying to get everything as quickly as we could.”

Varieties yet to be picked at South Coast Winery included Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and some Portuguese varieties, comprising 140 tons, with vineyard samples coming in at 23.5° or 24° Brix. “We’ll be wrapping up in the next ten days,” McPherson said.

At Hart Winery, winemaker Jim Hart estimated his team had brought in two-thirds of their fruit – about 60 tons. The winery produces around 4,000 cases per year. With the exception of Roussanne, all of Hart’s white varieties had been picked, including Sauvignon Blanc and Arneis; as well as a number of red varieties, including Sangiovese, Syrah, and Barbera. Like McPherson, Hart let his Bordeaux varieties — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Sirah — continue to hang.

“We have ten acres and grow about 40% of what we make,” said Hart, whose family produces around 3,500 cases annually and is the longest-standing winery in the valley at 40 years old. “The rest we purchase, but it’s all Temecula Valley fruit.” He went on to describe the large scale of the Temecula Valley AVA at 33,000 acres, 1,300 of which are planted to vines in subregions that range from valley floor to mountains, desert to coastal-influenced conditions, and include a wide variety of soils like decomposed granite and volcanic.

Temecula is part of the four-county District 16 grape growing region, which accounted for 4,190 tons in 2016, according to the state’s Grape Crush Report.

In an effort to boost quality and identify the emerging region’s style and strengths, many winemakers commit to using only Temecula Valley fruit. But that commitment was put to the test in 2016 when heat and drought drastically reduced yields, by as much as 30% for some producers.

“We had a horrendous heat wave mid-June last year, right after a lot of us leaf-pulled” said Olivia Bue, who joined Robert Renzoni Vineyards as winemaker in 2013. “It got up to 115 degrees, so a lot of our grapes shut down and shriveled because there was way too much exposure. We also had minimal rain, as every region dealt with. We lost quite a bit of our yield; it was devastating for vineyard and winery owners.”

For the 2017 crop, however, Bue reports a significant increase in rain, which washed away much of the ground salts and brought pH into greater balance. “Harvest is really back to normal for what it was four years ago,” she said. “We’re seeing more varietal characteristics represented in the flavors of the grapes just because they’re staying on the vine longer and with slower maturation.”

With a focus on Italian varietal wines, Robert Renzoni Vineyards produces 18,000 cases annually, with a focus on lean, lower-alcohol wines to preserve acids. From the estate, Bue and her team make Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Barbera, in addition to Montepulciano sourced from the Temecula Valley which, Bue said, “grows incredibly well here.”

This year’s Sangiovese, she said, was picked two weeks later than last year’s crop, and is currently undergoing malolactic fermentation in barrel right now; the brand’s two Pinot Grigio wines came in at around 23° Brix and are already fermented, one of which is being stirred on its lees for creaminess and minerality while the other will be kept crisp, clean and bright. Cabernet Sauvignon is still hanging at about 24° Brix, as are Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo; Bue plans to pick most of the remaining fruit next week.

She recalled how, in 2014, the Pinot Grigio was ready to be picked by July 14, nearly four weeks ahead of schedule. “We’re definitely looking forward to lower pH, better acids and higher yields this year.”

Read more at: https://www.winesandvines.com/news/article/189801/Temecula-Wine-Harvest-Rebounding
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Photo courtesy of  Matthew Burlile 

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