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Photo Source: Halter Ranch Vineyard

We received an update on the current crush from Paso Robles thanks to Solterra Strategies. Winemakers from Adelaida Cellars, Alta Colina, kukkula, and Halter Ranch were interviewed (full disclosure: all clients of Soleterra Strategies) about the fact earlier harvests are becoming a kind of new normal.

The interviews below were provided by Soleterra in a press release dated August 22, 2016:

Paso Robles Harvest Update

Winemakers have begun picking grapes in Paso Robles, with many wineries slated to bring in their first grapes this week. Starting for some in mid-August, this is becoming the ‘new normal’ timing for harvest with a near similar start to last year, or just a week later. Provided the warm summer with optimal growing conditions, several winemakers started harvesting their white varieties last week; Grenache Blanc and Viognier were among the first. Overall, winemakers are optimistic about the yields, with no significant factors like freezes or prolonged heat spikes affecting the crop.

Q: When did/will the 2016 harvest start for you? What varieties were(will be)first?

Jeremy Weintraub / Adelaida, Paso Robles:
We brought in Muscat, Viognier, and some Grenache (for Rosé) on August 17. This week (August 22), we will be harvesting Gamay and Pinot Noir from the HMR Vineyard. And most likely Chardonnay and Syrah. For the blocks that are over one acre, we’ll pick what’s ready now, then go back later for additional picks. We’re basically a week later than last year, which is several weeks earlier than HISTORIC averages, but becoming part of the new normal.

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina, Paso Robles:
I’m anticipating our first pick will be early this week (August 22). Viognier will probably be first out of the gate, with Grenache Blanc challenging. Our white blocks are on a hot, south face and tend to stress resulting in early ripening, as the vines fret about shutting down due to lack of water.

Grape Varieties Map 2016 for press1

Image source: Halter Ranch Vineyard.

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch, Paso Robles:
Our harvest is expected to start in the first half of September, which puts this year earlier than the average. If the temperature continues as forecast and we see consistently warm days and cool nights, we will be looking at a compact harvest. The first varietals will most likely be Grenache, Syrah and Tempranillo.

Kevin Jussila / kukkula, Paso Robles:
Harvest started with Viognier last Friday – August 12. We then picked our first reds – Zinfandel and Syrah on August 18. These two will be pretty well off the vines in the next 7-10 days.

Q: With this trend of early harvests, is this the new norm, and how does that play into winemaking choices?

 Jeremy Weintraub / Adelaida, Paso Robles:
I think we’ve all learned over the last four years, this is the new normal. Anyone who’s been making wine for longer than that (four years) is having to reorient themselves to this timing. Being flexible with what Mother Nature gives you is the challenge, but also the thrilling part of winemaking. Making changes is part of the process, and our responses to what we’re given are what make this so exciting. We seek a harmonious relationship with nature, not an antagonistic one.

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina, Paso Robles:
It’s all about the weather… and we all know that nobody fully understands Mother Nature. About the time we start talking about a new norm, along will come a cold, damp year with early and late freezes (like 2011.) As for winemaking choices, the picking call gets tougher with early harvests. As you wait for tannins/color to ripen, the sugar keeps climbing.

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch, Paso Robles:
We prefer an early harvest over a late harvest because we can make the determination of when the fruit is ripe. With an early harvest you can often get too much sugar development without the development in the skins. If it is late then you are at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Kevin Jussila / kukkula, Paso Robles:
Seems like the norm to us. We’re actually about four to five days later than in both 2013 and 2014, which started for the reds around August 14 – 15. Remember, we’re dry farmers, and as such we tend to start and end about three to four weeks before irrigated vineyards. There does seem to be a fairly defined warming trend to our summers and that makes us become more vigilant about being on top of the vineyard early. Because we don’t add water during prolonged heat spells, we are always watching the canopy for signs of fatigue and tasting to make sure the acids don’t start to fall off too quickly.

Q: Any initial impressions about the fruit and overall yield?

Video Source: Adelaida Cellars

Jeremy Weintraub / Adelaida, Paso Robles:
I’m seeing high acids. This is due primarily to our limestone soils, which restrict the vines’ ability to uptake potassium. Also, I believe we’re exacerbating this restriction by limiting irrigation.

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina, Paso Robles:
It is remarkably normal at this point. (I really hate to say things like that – sure fire way to get hammered by a heat spike or something equally bad.) We have yields in the three tons/acre range predicted with nice small berries – a formula for great wines

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch, Paso Robles:
Our yield projections are on target for an average crop of two to three tons of grapes per acre. As always we are trying to improve the quality of the fruit we grow and ultimately the quality of the wine we produce. The latest in irrigation technologies has proven again this year, we do not need to water nearly as much as in the past. We are just starting to put out a limited amount of irrigation to quench the vine’s thirst and prepare them for the final push to harvest.

Kevin Jussila / kukkula, Paso Robles:
The crop is heavier certainly than last vintage, and close to normal. 2012 and 2013 were big crops, so this is lighter, but we’re seeing about 1 to 1 ½ tons/acre versus ½ – 1 ton last vintage. Our fruit is looking beautiful this year – the acids seem to be holding in there versus last vintage. We had around 20 inches of rain last winter and, although still about 30% less than average, it seemed to help support the vines and give us more consistent fruit. Leafhopper pressure seems much higher this year, so we’re having to battle with that a bit to make sure our canopy stays healthy. Too early to tell on the complexity of the fruit at this point, but good looking clusters with nice acid/sugar balance is a good sign of a solid vintage.

Q: Any impacts (positive or negative) of the ongoing drought?

Jeremy Weintraub / Adelaida, Paso Robles:
Our vines are responding to (or getting used to) the warmer winters and less rain. About a third of our vineyard in dry farmed. Yield wise, these vines looks just as healthy as other plants, so the dry farmed vines are getting used to thriving on less. Our vineyard manager is optimistic about employing more dry farming on the ranch, so that’s the goal.

Alta Colina Night Picking

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina, Paso Robles:
The last few years we have seen some odd behaviors – small number of seeds per berry and high fructose to glucose ratios are a couple that stand out. It’s too early for me to see any of these kinds of things this year. On the irrigation front, we are experiencing well water level drawdown that is impacting our pump rate so we will be watching like a hawk.

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch, Paso Robles:
This growing season has been a contrast to last year, even as the drought continues. Last year we had the coolest May on record causing poor fruit set and lower crops across the region. That, paired with very low rainfall early in the spring, lead to less overall growth for the vines. This year what rain we received came late in spring and filled the soils as the growing season started, driving vigorous growth in the vineyard.

Kevin Jussila / kukkula, Paso Robles:
As dry farmers, we’re seeing that after five years of drought our plants seem to really hang in there. The root structure is really digging deep, and this makes them really resilient to what’s been going on. It’s hard to assess how that impacts the quality of the fruit. My assumption is that it adds to the intensity/complexity of the fruit, it brings out the stronger sense of minerality that is our signature, but how much of that is site vs. drought is tough to say. Clearly, deciding to go the dry farm route has proven to be a fortuitous choice. We’ve even planted three of the five years of drought without the assistance of irrigation, and the vines have performed amazingly well.

Q: Interesting notes about the projected weather over the few weeks (warming trend)?

 Jeremy Weintraub / Adelaida, Paso Robles:
The forecast is critical to planning the picks. This weekend was relatively cool (with no heat spikes), and it looks like we’ve got a good week or so of mild weather. The longer I can leave the fruit on the vine without any dramatic weather events, the better, as flavors multiply without knocking alcohol or acid out of balance.

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina, Paso Robles:
Hah! I follow three weather services and listen to the radio – none come even close to agreement. My son-in-law is a pioneer in parallel processing utilizing graphic processors – maybe they can convert some of this research from analyzing web surfing habits for advertising to figuring out the weather.

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch, Paso Robles:
The temperatures have also been above normal with more than two consecutive weeks above 100 and daily average highs in the 95 plus range most of June and July. All the signs are pointing to an outstanding vintage in the fields and winery.


Kevin Jussila / kukkula, Paso Robles:
My impressions of the weather for this vintage are that we had a relatively cool spring and early summer. The month of July and August saw a number of mid 90s to low 100s, yet we seemed to get a few to several days of a break from that. With a few exceptions, the evenings cooled down quite nicely and allowed the plants to rest, so my perspective is that it’s been a solid growing season. The vines look pretty healthy with respect to the canopy at this point mid-August. Most or all of the fruit will be harvested in the next three to four weeks, and the plants should hold up quite nicely till  then.

Any press-related inquiries about these brands, or questions about distribution should be directed to: Stacie Jacob, [email protected], (805) 286-6874 Joel Peterson, [email protected], (805)610-2204.


This just in from Cinch PR & Branding Group: “Insights on the season from Freemark Abbey’s tenured Director of Winemaking and longtime Napa wine expert Ted Edwards. Overall, Ted says “September will bring in the lion’s share of the Chardonnay and Bordeaux red fruit. It all looks good so far!”

“Further insights on this harvest season are included below:

Thank goodness for our wet winter.  Although it didn’t relieve all of the drought symptoms, it helped to replenish our aquifers and reservoirs and stimulate more vine growth, bigger canopies and a decent size crop. From vineyard to vineyard we will see a lot of variation in terms of yield, mostly just short of average. But in some cases, such as our Sauvignon Blanc in St. Helena, we have what is called a bumper crop, i.e. a big yield. June and July saw moderate if not warm conditions, with a few days in the high 90s. A relatively dry spring pushed the ripening of the grapes on an early schedule. We began harvest on August 11th—early compared to an average year, but 12 days later than last year (which was extremely early).”

“Ted offers the following thoughts on his special strategy for grape selection:

At this point in time and with moderate weather in the forecast, I like to do what I call “cherry picking.”  Meaning, we strategically divide up the vineyard picking only those sections that are ripe, in the moment. For our first day we picked 10.25 tons, then waited a whole week before we picked anything else, wanting all the flavor development to occur with hang time and slow maturation.”

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