The grape harvest just wrapped up for us in the southern Okanagan Valley, and it was unlike any I have seen in 18 years making wine here. I visualize vintages as a year of weather reflected in the finished glass of wine, and with each vintage there is, for me, a corresponding rhythm or cadence that is unique to that year.
Some vintages have a steady back beat with bud break, flowering, colour change (veraison), ripening and harvest coming in a relatively even, expected pace. We have seen many harvests like this between 2000-2006. The 2011 vintage was quite different from those years.
It began in the Spring with a delayed introduction when we experienced cooler than usual weather. Bud break was at least a week behind and as June came and went the rhythm still had not picked up much. In July, when our hours of sunlight are longest and when I expect to feel the tempo build quickly, it was still cool–adagio.
We had a warmer August and September, but the days were getting shorter so, although they certainly helped us not lose any more ground, they did not help us make up for lost development we had already experienced.
Once we started picking the grapes in later September we were ready for a very fast-paced, steady, condensed harvest period. Instead, we would quickly bring in the Gewürztraminer then have to wait for another 4-5 days until the Pinot Gris was ripe. We would rush to get the Gris in only to have to stop again for a few days before the next grape was ready. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Like an alternative rock song.
Bang. Chardonnay. Pause.
Bang. Sauvignon Blanc. Pause.
Bang. Pinot Noir. Pause.
Bang. Syrah. Pause
The silence between beats became longer and longer as the weather got colder in mid October. Almost deafeningly quiet some days on our crush pad. With frost in late October and the heat being abruptly turned off for the season, the push in the end for the red grapes came furiously. Almost 40% of our entire crop was picked in 5 days. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon. Wonderful flavours, great acidity balance, no rot, a healthy crop. A crazed fury of activity in one crescendo.
Then Bang. Done. Fade.