We ask this question of Adam Lee, co-vintner of Santa Rosa’s Siduri Wines because Lee is a good source to take the pulse of harvest. Siduri covers a lot of territory, producing pinot noir from 20-plus different vineyards stretching from Santa Barbara north to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Let’s hear what the multitasker has to say.
Q: Is it too early to call this “a normal harvest”? What could go wrong at this point?
A: I don’t think it’s too soon to call it a “normal harvest” up until this point. If anything, it might be an unusually big harvest, but that’s a bit premature to call that. What could go wrong at this point? There’s still plenty. With a spread in ripeness there’s lots of fruit that isn’t ready. Certainly rain could be problematic, maybe even devastating if it was enough rain and given the quantity of fruit out there. But since it’s pretty early in many places, the odds of rain are decreased.
Q: What’s happening right now with regard to your harvest?
A: Harvest is still in the early stages. We’ve brought in 2 vineyards so far, both from the northern part of the Russian River Valley. Otherwise, there’s a lot of checking of vineyards to see if things are ripe. There’s an unusual spread in pinot noir ripeness this year. The two vineyards I picked were in the 24-25 brix range, but I checked a pinot noir vineyard yesterday (also in the RRV) that was at 19.6, and that was on its ripest section. (I didn’t even bother checking the sugars on the less ripe section). And yet, I’ve got zinfandel in the Russian River Valley that is at 21 brix, so while pinot is spread out a lot of what isn’t pinot noir is bunched together right in the middle.
Q: How does this year compare to last year?
A: There’s really no comparison to last year. 2011 was incredibly cool. 2012, while not “hot” has been warm, with almost textbook ripening weather. Yields are also up in 2012 compared to 2011s paltry yields. How much are they up? Not 100% certain as we still have more to pick, but I’d guess 20-30% at least (on pinot).
Q: What kind of sleep are you getting? How are your nerves?
A: Sleep? What’s that? Seriously, I do okay. But the hours shift. I am usually asleep by 8:30 p.m. But I am often up by 3 a.m. I spend the first couple of hours in the morning catching up on emails, paperwork, etc. I start checking vineyards at about 6: 30 a.m. (That’s when it is light enough).
Q: What’s the most challenging thing about harvest? What’s the best thing about it?
A: You get beat down during harvest, eventually. Keeping up the pace, for 5, 6, 7 weeks is tough. You get beat down. But you do it, and you know it is going to come to an end. But, honestly, that’s not the hardest for me. The hardest is that harvest’s arrival and the start of school coincide. And there are so many things that go on in your kid’s lives at the beginning of school that you find yourself either missing out on them, or participating in them but all the time checking your phone to see if your grapes are ready to pick up. Back to School Night lasts until 9:30 p.m. I should have been in bed an hour ago at that point. It’s really hard balancing out your family life and your harvest life.
Q: What’s the best thing about it?
A: As far as the best thing goes, there are lots of them. The absolute joy of making one thing out of something else – grapes into wine. It really is an incredible transformation and the fact that I get to shepherd that is pretty stunning. But one joy that is often overlooked is the joy of spending time with new people. We have a group of harvest interns that come in each year – 5 people this year – and they have all worked at different wineries before, in the United States and often someplace in the Southern Hemisphere. They bring with them so many different experiences, different viewpoints on life, different musical tastes, and spending time with them is really pretty special too. I learn a lot from them.
Q: Any other insights on harvest this year?
A: Couple of things that might be worth mentioning. Labor is a big question this year. On our pick yesterday, out of 15 pickers only 9 showed. There simply aren’t enough people to pick grapes this year and that has the potential to cause a big problem come the middle of harvest. I don’t know enough to be political on the issue, nor do I have any solution at my fingertips, but it is something that needs to be dealt with. Also, there’s been a lot of talk about a shortage of grapes, but it seems like to me that already a big crop is filling the pipeline up pretty quickly. I am getting lots of phone calls about additional grapes for sale. And I am starting to get phone calls with comments like, “I will take any reasonable price.” That leads me to think that there are more grapes than demand and that the supply channel is already pretty full.