2020 continues to find ways to challenge all of us, and life out in the vineyard has been no exception.
The summer was moving along rather uneventfully in the vineyard, and then August arrived and brought with it an extended heatwave the likes of which haven’t been recorded for 70 years. Grapevines are pretty resilient, but this kind of unrelenting heat can make the usual late-season ripening go a little haywire. That’s been compounded by massive wildfires spurred by a lightning storm about a week ago that are now threatening vineyards in Sonoma, Napa, and Monterey County with the possibility of smoke taint.
Here in Lodi, the smoke hasn’t caused any problems so far, but brix (sugar levels in winegrapes) began to accelerate dramatically as the heat wave continued into its second week. That’s not necessarily something that’s going to adversely affect the fruit, but it requires obsessive monitoring and often results in an accelerated harvest. Both of those things happened in Lodi (as well as statewide), and harvest crews hit the rows about a week early compared to last year.
The rapid increase of sugars can make for uneven ripening, which winemaker Sue Tipton of Acquiesce Vineyards saw in parts of the vineyard, but says she’s quite pleased overall with the quality of the fruit.
Ryan Sherman, winemaker at Fields Family Wines, noted that while the fruit is coming in a little early the rising sugars have not had a detrimental affect on acid levels (I’ve talked about his Vermentino before, and will again soon when it’s Fields Family’s time in the hype joint):
“A tiny bit early but holding up well – not dumping any acid [in the Grenache Blanc] which this variety, as you know, can do in late stages of ripening. Fruit across the board seems to be holding up pretty well in spite of the convection oven-like heat we are having during the day and no significant cooling overnight.”
This is very good news in a difficult year for California winemakers, and a happy thought that vintage 2020 might be memorable for more than just our ongoing COVID-related struggles.