With this year’s harvest set to begin in the second week of August, the 2021 Vintage is about to move from the vineyard to the winery so we thought it might be a good time for a review, especially as it has been a very “interesting” year so far.
The 2021 vintage actually began as soon as the grapes were picked last autumn and the vines turned from producing and ripening fruit to storing energy/calories in their roots to get them through their dormant winter period and fuel new growth in the coming year.
If you have visited Napa or Sonoma wine country you will have seen large wine turbines scattered among the vineyards – these are part of a frost protection strategy that also includes the use of sprinkler systems. When frost threatens, they spray the growing vines with water which freezes and actually creates a protective bubble around the new buds keeping them safe at 32 degrees even as the surrounding air drops well below freezing.
This threat is a regular springtime occurrence in Napa and Sonoma, but in Lake County we see a different climate zone entirely and late Autumn frost can also be factor. This is partly due to elevation – Clearlake itself sits at 1329’ and vineyards are found as high as 3,000’. There is also northeasterly air flow late in the year, like the Mistral in France, that carries cold air into our region as well as Mendocino County.
On November 8th 2020 we recorded 19-20 degrees in our Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blanc vineyard near Kelseyville. The pond was empty having helped irrigate the vines though the hot summer and the vines stood unprotected. Among new vines that are only four years old, 20% were killed outright. These vines sit on two different rootstocks – 1616C and SO4 – and the toll was distributed accordingly. Of the vines that succumbed to frost, 80% of them were SO4 and only 20% were 1616C, so we lost 16% of our young SO4 rootstock vines and only 4% of our young 1616C rootstock vines. In viticultural terms, this is a highly significant result that will no doubt influence future Sauvignon Blanc plantings throughout the frost prone “Big Valley” AVA.
In the mature vineyard many canes were damaged by the cold so that fewer new buds appeared in spring this year. Our Old Stake vineyard, planted to a variety of red grapes, only 4 miles away and 100 feet higher in elevation, experienced no damage at all which speaks to the dramatic influence of terroir. In general the quality and yields of the red grape varieties seem unaffected by the factors that impacted the Sauvignon Blanc.
Next, soon after budbreak, the vines started to produce much more foliage than usual to compensate for the potential lack of fruit and the vineyard canopy has a very different look this year. We have been working closely with our viticultural team, headed by David Weiss of Bella Vista Farms, with the application of high potassium kelp for example, to manage these unusual conditions.
The end result is a drop in Sauvignon Blanc yields and a projected harvest date of August 10th-12th which is 10-14 days early. As with red wines, a smaller crop is sometimes a more flavorful one and it will be fascinating to see how the fruit tastes once we process it in the winery.
We’ll keep you posted…