Harvest is off to a delicious start! The quality is superb, though quantity is sadly down. It is typical in a drought year (our third in a row) to have low yields, which thankfully correlates to higher concentration of flavors and superior wines. This is our 46th vintage at Iron Horse.
Thank you to my brother and our magnificent vineyard team for bringing in such exquisite fruit.
We started picking on August 10th, which sounds early, but the average first day has been August 15 for over a decade.
Keep in mind that we are picking Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for Sparkling Wine and that means earlier – at lower sugar levels and relatively higher acidity — than for still wine because of Méthode Champenoise. This involves a second fermentation in the bottle, which bumps the alcohol by about one degree; thus, we want to start with a low alcohol base wine.
When to harvest is the first most important winemaking decision of the vintage. It determines the core smells, flavors, texture, and longevity of the resulting wine. In a word, the grapes set the quality and “perfectly mature”. The deciders are Laurence, David and our Chief Winemaker Sofian Himeur. But we also took input from the younger generation.
Our version of blessing the grapes means Sofian climbs up on the catwalk overlooking the press while Cellar Master Rigoberto Moreno loads the first bin of Pinot Noir into the press. Then Sofian douses them with 2018 Classic Vintage Brut. It’s like launching a ship, plus the grapes get a of sip of their own destiny and learn “by example” what to do going forward.
We harvest by hand to get as much uniformity of maturity as possible. And we hand sort in the vineyard, so this is what the bins look like when they come to the winery.
We don’t just start at one end of the vineyard and march across. We pick and choose daily where to go next, hopscotching around the property. We might pick just the top of a certain block one day… and the bottom two days later. We might pick just one side of the vines, because they matured first, and we’ll let the grapes on the other side have more time on the vine to develop. Sometimes it’s vine by vine.
The closest analogy to grape vines is roses and just as the roses don’t all bloom at once, so too the grapes mature at different rates.
We start at first light when it’s cool – typically, 50 degrees and foggy to the point of dripping at sunrise, with the sun breaking through at about 11am, which is about when we quit picking for the day.
Our August daytime highs usually range in the mid to upper 80s. We can get hot days, but they are sporadic. Today it hit 94 degrees at 3pm and then magically dropped to about 70 by dinnertime. That’s our microclimate – cool, foggy Green Valley, which allows us to make Sparkling Wines on our level of finesse.
I hope you will come visit during harvest. We should be at it until at least September 7th. Come for a weekday 10am tasting, so you will here before we quit picking for the day. There is nothing quite like tasting the grape before it goes into the press… and then the wine that it will become.