At Vine Cliff Winery, the 2017 vintage is one that has been marked by extremes. First, record rainfall during the winter, then heat which beat records over Labor Day, all punctuated by wildfires in October. Our yields were low but the wines that now fill our cellar are promising.
First, we thank the first responders who fought the fires and saved so many lives and structures. The Vine Cliff Winery and Vineyards were spared any immediate damage. Everyone in Wine Country has been affected by the fires and we feel relieved that within the Vine Cliff Family, everyone is safe despite the loss of homes and property. We also feel very fortunate that we had picked all of our fruit before the fires started. The winery was in a mandatory evacuation zone for four days which prevented access for the production crew, however the few tanks we did still have fermenting were well sealed and did not require much attention.
After five seasons of drought, the heavy rainfall, which largely accumulated during the vines’ dormancy period, was a welcome relief. We did not suffer the downsides usually associated with high precipitation but mainly look at it as a benefit. The Vine Cliff vineyard sites are mainly on slopes having rocky and well drained soils. The vines and soils at the time had been depraved and could absorb that water. Furthermore, the above average heat during the growing season drew excess moisture out of the vines, helping them to achieve a good balance as we headed into harvest.
The extreme heat that hit Northern California over the Labor Day weekend favored the vines with the correct row orientations. The heat, coupled with direct sunlight, caused grapes to shrivel. In areas where grapes were shaded from direct sunlight, or had deep soils, there was little affect other than pushing the projected harvest date forward by approximately one to two weeks.
We had nearly completed the Chardonnay harvest by Labor Day. The small block of fruit that did hang through the heat did very well and even developed a nice tropical quality while maintaining its acidity. The Chardonnay this year has aromas of citrus, tea and apple with very bright acidity. In addition to fermentation in French oak, we are experimenting with stainless steel and concrete vessels to enhance the cool climate qualities from Carneros.
In our Oakville vineyard, we experienced reduced yields from the earlier heat wave. The varying row orientations and dry rocky soils resulted in grapes drying up on the vine. We had time to remove these affected grape clusters on the vine prior to harvest. Once we picked, we manually sorted through all of the fruit to select out any grapes that could adversely affect the wine. The Cabernets so far this year are red-fruited with raspberry and cola qualities. The tannins are supple and chewy; and the palate is full and mouthwatering.
John Wilson, October 26, 2017