September 30, 2011 | by Lisa Mattson
The 2011 vintage harvest kicked off at Jordan in the wee hours of the morning on Monday, September 26, with our first gondolas of Chardonnay night-harvested in the Russian River Valley. It is more expensive to pick grapes at night, but for our house style of a balanced, elegant Chardonnay with bright stone fruit, we believe it’s essential. Quality without compromise guides all our winemaking decisions.
When the grapes are cold, the fruit flavors are more bright, the acids are higher and the sugars are lower. During the daytime, the sugars increase. Higher sugars means more alcohol after fermentation. We want to ensure the beautiful fruit and acids are complemented by lower alcohols, which make for a more food-friendly wine.
Because we’ve only harvested roughly half of our Chardonnay grapes by week’s end, it’s too early to fully assess the vintage. But what we are experiencing is consistent with our observations of the growing season–very good acidity due to the coolness of the summer and nice varietal flavors. But cluster weights are off by 25%, which is the principal reason for below average yields in the vineyards. In addition, the small cluster weights are pressing out smaller juice yields by another factor of 10%. The maturation cycle of the grapes is very similar to last year. The weather could not have been better this week–sunny days but not too hot–although Friday was quite cool with fog lingering over Alexander Valley until 1 p.m.
We’re expecting some rain early next week, which doesn’t make our winemakers happy. Our first gondolas of Merlot grapes arrived today, and we’ll continue to harvest more Chardonnay and Merlot through Monday. Hopefully, the rain will stay away. So far, Merlot grape flavors are also very nice but yields and juice quantities are light like Chardonnay.
In keeping with tradition, we celebrated the beginning of harvest with our annual Blessing of the Grapes ceremony. Be sure to look at the pictures of what fresh Chardonnay grape juice looks like. It tastes like fresh-cut apples. So juicy and sweet.