Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Tale of Two Harvests, by J Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse

Melissa Stackhouse

The 2011 harvest can be summarized as a tale of two harvests:  the harvest before the rain and the one after the rain.

The harvest began on August 22, with our first pick of Pinot Noir for sparkling wine. The entire sparkling wine harvest went smoothly. There were no dramatic weather events, and the fruit benefited from cool morning fog and warm afternoon sunshine.  From a winemaking perspective, calling picks in the field was straightforward.  A typical harvest day for the winemaking team began in the vineyard, walking the rows, tasting fruit, surveying the vines’ health. While assessing maturity of the sparkling fruit, we also monitored the grapes for our varietal wines: Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. The sparkling fermentations were incredibly aromatic and yielded very high-quality base wine. The team is impressed with the sparkling vintage, and eager to blend this year’s Cuvée 20 and Brut Rosé.

As we progressed through harvest, the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir began making their entrance.  Quality was spectacular for these varieties. I was particularly excited about the Pinot Noir that we source from J’s estate vineyards within the Russian River Valley. One vineyard in particular, Bow Tie, was most compelling.  Located on Westside Road on the outskirts of Healdsburg, it is a warmer, cool-climate vineyard, the makings of a world-class site. The fruit did not disappoint, nor have the wines that are presently aging in barrel.

Bow Tie Vineyard

Most winemakers hit a certain point in harvest when watching the forecast becomes an hourly event. It is quite common in Northern California to receive early autumn rains. And this year was no different. Most of our fruit was in the winery prior to any heavy rain, with the exception of Chardonnay.  This is a varietal that is early to break bud, but late to ripen. 
Jewell Ranch Vineyard & Russian River Valley Estate Chardonnays

The first batches of Chardonnay were somewhat low in sugar but we did get well-developed flavors.  Then came the rains and with them botrytis. Unfortunately, we had to leave one vineyard unpicked.  The result is a significantly small crop of Chardonnay from this vintage; but, what we were able to get in before the rains should result in some racy and flavorful wines.  I am looking forward to tasting it as the blend develops.