The Little Summer That Almost Was

Here we are now, September 26th, and there’s roughly no more than four weeks of viable time to bring in all of the fruit. This is the absolute latest I’ve ever waited and there’s no “Indian Summer” in sight if you look on the weather websites. The forecast for temperatures over the next two weeks in the Yakima Valley are predicted to be only in the low to middle 70’s with an occasional upper 70’s.

These conditions are a compelling example of the necessity to carefully match a given grape varietal with the appropriate vineyard site, or mezoclimate. In the case of the Rhone grapes there is a poignant difference between syrah and grenache. Syrah, being a “chameleon grape” can adapt to a wide range of climates, but grenache must have a long and warm summer to fully ripen. Mourvedre also falls in the same category. After all, both are indigenous to Spain where the climate of their origin rarely behaves in the manner we are experiencing in Eastern Washington this fall.

But … TA-DA! Enter stage left … TEMPRANILLO! Being an early ripening grape, by its name alone (implying “temperate”), the great red grape savior looks to be coming through this half-baked summer in spades!

So, happily, we announce the first pick of the 2010 vintage this Tuesday the 21st from the original planting of tempranillo at the Two Coyote vineyard. Phil Cline, vineyard manager, called a day or two ago to tell me that we had made it to 24 brix and still climbing! So, it’s “over the hill” for me tomorrow to check out the fruit prior to picking.

The success of this small block is also due to another important consideration when planting grapes in a region where there’s little track record. This is clonal selection. The first planting of tempranillo at Two Coyote is simply called the #1 clone. There is truly a significant difference between the two current clones in Washington known as #1 and #2.

Clone #1 seems to produce a rather small cluster with berries about the size of merlot, while the #2 clone’s clusters are much larger, longer, cylindrical, and with a bigger berry. It’s no surprise that the second planting of tempranillo at Two Coyote, the #2 clone, is at least two brix behind the original planting. However, the tempranillo at Sugarloaf vineyard is rapidly approaching 24 brix as well and it’s the #2 clone. So, this would substantiate that the rather steep hillside site where it’s planted encourages earlier ripening.

The outlook for both grenache and mourvedre is still a concern, but between Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain and the steep hillside of Sugarloaf, we may pull through. Counoise, also of Spanish origin, may present difficulties as well, for several times in year’s past, it simply “gave up” and shut down.

In effort to take the high road, growers are using phrases such as “bright fruit flavors.” “good acidity instead of flaccid texture,” and “finally, lower alcohols.” Well, I’m all for lower alcohols, but high acid goes hand in hand with low pH. This can seriously effect the completion of malolactic fermentation, or the conversion of malic acid in the grape must to lactic acid. Without it, red wine is terse, abrupt and thin as opposed to round, supple and smooth.

Undoubtedly, this will be a vintage radically unlike almost all others in Washington. It could be one with wines that possess great aging potential and it could also be a failure depending on the vineyard location. It will definitely challenge winemakers who are unfamiliar with processing grapes of high acid, low ph and lower sugars.

I certainly appreciate wines with good aging potential, but for purposes of perspective, here’s an old adage: “95% of all wine purchased in the United States is consumed within 72 hours.” Funny, that sounds like the total number of degree days with good heat units this year in the vineyards.

Oh well, c’est la vie. Opps, this being a website about those things Spanish, rather:
“esa es la manera en que se!”


About salidawine

Salida Wine is a creation of winemaker Doug McCrea featuring a portfolio of wines made in Washington State from Spanish grape varietals.
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