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Early Peek at 2013 Pinot Noir Harvest

Adam Lee, proprietor and winemaker of Siduri Wines (www.siduri.com), travels the states of California and Oregon sourcing grapes from multiple wine regions for his excellent appellation-designated and vineyarddesignated Pinot Noirs. I don’t know of another Pinot Noir winemaker who tackles such a formidable task, so I look to him when I want an overall view of a vintage. When I spoke with Adam on October 8, harvest was winding down.

California

“First off, the 2013 vintage was early. People usually associate early with hot, but the growing season was not particularly hot. It wasn’t cold like 2011 or even 2010, rather normal to slightly warmer. The vines budded out early, set early and harvested early. We picked in August for the first time ever as a winery.”

“The crops were big. They may not be quite as big as 2012 (I haven’t calculated it yet), but it is close. Some vineyards threw a big crop, but a few did not, so that is probably what swung the vintage to being overall slightly smaller. Sta. Rita Hills was bigger in 2013 than 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands was slightly bigger, and Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast were more variable with some sites bigger than others.”

“Sugars were somewhat all over the place. It wasn’t a tremendously big year as far as Brix goes, and it didn’t strike me as a year where you always needed high Brix to have good ripeness. We picked at 20º Brix and at 28º Brix. I think the larger crops kept Brix accumulation in check.”

“Interestingly, there always seemed to be something out of whack with the juice numbers. In many cases, it was the malic acid numbers which were high. Usually as the grapes ripen, the malic acid goes down as a percentage of total acid and around one-third at harvest, but that did not happen frequently this year. For example, if the juice was brought in at a pH of 3.45 (pretty good), the malic was half or more of the total acid, so you found yourself having to add acid even though the initial pH was pretty good. The YAN (nutrient levels in the must) were very low generally and it is thought that this was due to the drought.”

“How are the wines? They are at least very good, maybe better, but I am not certain they are at the level of 2012. Having said that, there are sections that are as good as 2012, so it is possible to make wines as good as last year. We will probably need to be more selective to get there. The challenge in pinning quality on a vintage early is that high malic acid years are notoriously difficult to figure out early. There is a greater shift post malolactic fermentation, and the wines change more. 2013 is not a great year to prognosticate early on wine quality.”

Oregon

“Oregon experienced a very dry, pretty warm year throughout the growing season. Set was variable, starting early in some areas and later in others. That was even true within the same vineyard, with certain clone and rootstock combinations starting early and others later. In the middle of set it became quite cold so growers talked of two different sets leading to a lot of variability. The sites that set early seemed to have a lot of the peas and pumpkins (hens and chicks, millenderage) while those that started later did not. Overall, the crop was definitely bigger in Oregon in 2013.”

“Often there seems to be some weather similarities between California and Oregon and that was true until September. Then when it was warm in California, it was cold and wet in Oregon. Our vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains got almost 7 inches of rain in September. This caused the areas that had millenderage to be most affected, with the tiny seedless berries bursting. That brought in the birds. It also brought in fruit flies, something not seen in such abundance even by old time growers (see vineyardist Andy Humphrey’s statement below). Sections that were ripest were hit hardest by all these factors.”

“The sections that set later had a more uniform set and generally bigger berries. These sections didn’t have the split berries, but did end up with some botrytis. Sugars on everything went down, and pH levels went up due to the rain. Nutrient levels were a record low, due largely to a dry summer and un-irrigated vines. The wines will be low in alcohol, but seem to have surprisingly good color thus far.”

“There is still a good amount of fruit hanging as the weather has improved.”

Robert Parker, Jr., largely declared the vintage over in Oregon as of October 2 when he reported, “2013 Oregon harvest, which held so much promise 3 weeks ago, has largely been devastated by heat and frequent rains and invasive fruit fly species.”

Drosophila

Well-known vineyard manager, Andy Humphrey, provided the following correspondence to his clients on October 7.

• “Even the oldest guy I could find who has been doing this since 1969 has never seen Drosophila in the fruit like this. There are a couple of even older guys, but they probably don’t remember.
• Fruit flies are appearing everywhere regardless of AVA, soil, clone and elevation.
• The fruit flies seem to not be interested in white varieties - so far.
• Although you can find them in berries that were split, they seem to be targeting very tight clusters that had berries off or partially pushed from the stem from previous heavy rains and berry swelling. Almost like those individual berries or groups of berries were “picked,” and continued to sit there in the middle of the cluster in warm weather waiting to become food for Drosophila larvae.
• There is a reason they are called vinegar flies. They carry the yeast around with them, the berries they lay their eggs in are inoculated and begin to ferment with the WRONG yeast. Probably a symbiotic relationship between the yeast and the conditions for the larvae to thrive? The result for us, however, is what everyone calls “Sour Rot.” I don’t know if that is scientifically accurate, but it makes sense in my world.
• There are low PHI contact sprays that will kill the adults but not the larvae or eggs.
• The eggs can hatch into larvae in 15 to 24 hours.
• There are long PHI sprays that will kill larvae and eggs, but they infuse the fruit with the residual pesticide. I don’t know of anyone yet who wants to do that or has actually done that.
• The conclusion is that you can’t kill them unless you can see them. If you can see them, they have already laid eggs for at least one cycle. If you kill the adults, there is already a new batch on the way. At some point, depending on various conditions, the larvae molting into adults begins to occur one week after the first cycle of eggs are laid. And then? Again every 15-24 hours.
• Wineries are jumping on the schedule like flies on fruit.”


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