Per usual, the first grapes in Anderson Valley to come off the vine will be at Charles Vineyard (our estate) here in Boonville! Early this coming week we'll be picking Pommard 05 Pinot Noir for sparkling wine -- more specifically, for Schramsberg's delicious product down in Calistoga.
You've all heard winemakers wax on about how exciting harvest is and how thrilling it is to bring in the first batch of fruit for the new vintage. However, for us, calling that first pick date reminds us that we better get our butts in gear and start prepping for still wine harvest. :) This means berry sampling, arranging the cellar to bring in fruit, and getting ready to wake up REALLY early, again and again.
I'm sometimes hesitant to exclaim that we're the first pick to other winemakers and winery owners. It's because being the first can sometimes give the wrong impression of our vineyard site, and so please allow me a few moments to explain about the climates of Anderson Valley.
SHE BLOWS HOT AND COLD
Our valley as a whole is mostly a Region 1 climate -- the coolest in California. The Sonoma Coast is also a Region 1. Our average yearly temperature is in the realm of 55 degrees F, with A LOT of rain and moisture in the fall, winter and spring months. The biggest red we can ripen here, without fail, is Pinot Noir, although a few acres of Syrah seem to do fairly well most years. The ripest we can ever get our late harvest Sauvignon Blanc is 30 Brix, and that's stretching it through Thanksgiving and crossing our fingers that it gets there.
But there are two different sides to Anderson Valley -- ours is the one with the extremes.
Charles Vineyard (our estate, which we farm) is nestled against Anderson Creek, just below the Eastern mountains surrounding Anderson Valley. We're the second-southernmost vineyard in Anderson Valley, yet our particular site is reliably cooler in the winter and early spring than most Boonville vineyards. And believe me, when the temperature is plunging toward freezing, five degrees is a BIG deal!
We're cooler because of several factors: being directly below the Hwy. 253 corridor, we get all the cold air that funnels down off of the Eastern mountains. We also lie alongside the creek, which is a vast corridor for air movement. And, because the valley narrows again where we are, fog does spill over the Western mountains from the ocean and reach us on the other side (some people assume we don't get any fog on our side of Boonville).
We are warmer in the summer than the north-western end of the valley near Philo and Navarro. We get less fog, meaning more sunny days and colder nights. Fog does cool, but it also provides moisture and moderates temperatures. So, without as much fog, in the winter and early spring our temperatures here plunge, and we have more frost. A LOT more. In the summer we have larger diurnal temperature swings, often 40-50 degrees in between the daytime high and the nighttime low -- good for grapes and acidities. And, of course, less moisture means less mold pressure.
The vineyard to the south of us doesn't have any Pinot -- yet, anyway -- so there's no competition for first pick there. In fact, the original vineyard manager told my father it was too cold here to grow Pinot when we planted. This past year they budded over a number of acres to Pinot Noir. haha! Goes to show you what farming one property for 70 years can teach you! Well, I guess it teaches you the limits of your site and a firm knowledge of what you can and can't grow.
I digress, but because of our warmer summers and sunnier days, we are often the first pick for sparkling wine. Add this to the fact that we pick pretty early for our Foursight still wines (22.5-24 brix max), we can often claim the prize of first still Pinot Noir pick too. We sell grapes to several other Pinot producers, and by the time our harvest is in full swing for them, it usually is throughout our end of the valley as a whole.
So I should be proud, not hesitant, to shout from the rooftops that we're the first pick. Each vineyard site is unique, and that's the beauty of the business, as well as the mystique and driving force behind that elusive term terroir. As I often say in the tasting room, it's the differences that make our industry strong. If we all liked the same wines we'd only need one winery and most of us would be out of business. If we all had the same vineyard site and winemaking philosophies, than the wine industry would be a bit of a snoozefest.
If you're curious about the Winkler Scale (all this Region 1, Region 2 talk), you can find an easy explanation here.