A fast and furious harvest. At Long Shadows, harvest started August 25th, bringing in some of our Merlot and Syrah. This is a good 10 days earlier than usual and the first time to bring fruit in August, ever since I started making wine in the Columbia Valley in 1994 . Short hang time might come to mind, but then again, a mild winter prompted the bud-break to come early, shifting the whole growing season forward. In addition to being the earliest harvest on record, it was also the warmest and driest year I remember. The unusual part of having such a warm vintage was a change in some of the maturation patterns. For example, the Riesling we source from Phil Church in the Yakima Valley is historically one of our coolest sites and often is the last Riesling to be picked for our Poet's Leap program. In 2011, we harvested it on November 1st. This year, the Phil Church came into the winery on September 14th and was the first Riesling picked. Once the temperatures creep above 95' Fahrenheit, the plant stops processing its energy toward maturation; thinking of it, too hot and human beings move a bit slower too... While the vineyards from the cooler sites were working hard toward achieving the optimal maturation, the ones located in the warm sites were, let's say, napping in the afternoon. Another striking example was our Merlot; we have sourced Merlot for our Pedestal from Candy Mountain and Dionysus vineyards since 2004 , both East of Red Mountain. They are warm sites and consistently produce excellent, concentrated grapes. Traditionally, Candy Mountain grapes are the first ones to come in. When comparing 2009 and 2015, both condensed and early vintages, Candy Mountain was harvested on September 8th and Dionysus Vineyard on Sept 17 in 2009. This year, Dionysus grapes were picked at full ripeness on August 25th while Candy Mountain came in two weeks later on September 8th. The difference is Dionysus uses overhead sprinklers to cool off the foliage, allowing the vines to keep nutrients intake during the hot afternoons, while other sites using drip irrigation only experienced slightly delayed ripening and increased hangtime. For water conservation and irrigation accuracy, Dionysus vineyard irrigation system was switched from overhead to drip years ago but retained the vineyard overhead sprinklers to cool off the foliage during hot spells.
Hang time is one of the keys to great wine. More hang time is not necessarily better, rather quality time is what really counts. Same with vines as discussed in the previous paragraph. If the conditions are not perfect, then more time will be required to reach the sweet spot when the winemaker says "It's ready to pick!".
The picking date is one of the two most critical decisions a winemaker makes that will define the style of the wine. Pulling the grapes off the vines means the end of maturation. Harvesting earlier might lead the wine to be well balanced and loaded with bright fruit, while picking later will create a riper style wine, luscious with higher concentrations of color and dark ripe fruit.
The second key decision is cap management, which includes daily monitoring of the extraction and the action of mixing fermenting juice and skins together, using methods such as pump-overs and punch-downs. When making red wine, the moment we separate the "free run" wine off the skins marks the end of maceration and extraction of the tannins and the color pigmentation (anthocyanins).
The winemakers' vision and style dictate these viticulture and winemaking decisions, each technique will deeply impact the wine and take it take in a different direction.
A Note From the Vintners
At Long Shadows, all the vintners are in agreement that 2015 will be a sumptuous vintage to remember for years to come. I should say that it comes as no surprise to us; when there is an uncommon vintage, our combined years of experience and wine creativity allow us to react to the growing season and get the best out of it. I have to admit, the wine we have in barrel from this year is off to a great start. Overall, very deep colored wines with great intensity of flavors and richness with a vibrant mouthfeel.
Introducing the Key Club
Due to such high demand and short supply of our wines, we now have a wine club to guarantee allocations for our loyal supporters. Although we have enough wine to fulfill orders for 2016, as more people sign up, we will most likely need to create a waiting list going forward. In addition to our core wines, we have made small amounts of Vintners Select wines available through the club only. To learn more about the Key Club, you can contact Nina firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether you have a question, are planning a trip to Walla Walla or just want to say "Hi!", I would love to hear from you. I hope to see you all in the near future, a glass of wine in hand.
Santé! Gilles Nicault