By the first of October, the wine grape harvest of Hahn Estate’s vineyards near Soledad, Calif., was all but over, except for a few blocks of Grenache and Merlot, which are expected to be picked the second week of the month.
That’s way ahead of the typical schedule, says Andy Mitchell, director of Hahn Estate’s viticulture program. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir account for the bulk of the 1,100 acres of grapes. Spread across six vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco appellations of Monterey County, the grapes also include Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Gris and Syrah.
The unusually early harvest reflects the unusually early start, when crews began picking the first Pinot Noir clusters on Aug. 14. That’s about a month earlier than normal.
The Chardonnay harvest, however, began Sept. 7, similar in timing to most seasons,
“Overall, yields have been very light, even lighter than we estimated earlier,” Mitchell says. “They’re down about 40 percent to 50 percent from average.”
That’s in contrast to the San Antonio Valley at the southern end of Monterey County where Hahn Estate buys some grapes for its Hahn Family Wines. “Some growers there did very well with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Syrah,” Mitchell adds.
He attributes part of the decline in his production this season to above-average tonnage in each of the preceding three seasons. That includes Hahn Estate’s highest-ever yields last year. As a result, low reserves of carbohydrates in the vines at the beginning of this season contributed to fewer clusters and smaller berries.
The continuing drought also affected crop size as did adverse weather during part of the bloom.
“We started the year with much warmer than normal temperatures,” Mitchell says. “But, the weather turned cold at bloom when we also had about a quarter-inch of rain the first week of May and another third-of-an-inch the following week. That caused the caps of flower petals to stick instead of blowing off and reduced pollination rates. We ended up with a lot of shatter and shot berries, depending on when the vines bloomed.
“The same thing happened farther south in Paso Robles, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon. There were a lot of loose clusters there, too.”
Unusually hot weather last month, with temperatures in the mid- to high-90s in the third week of September, didn’t help Mitchell’s yields, either. The heat caused sugar levels to rise due to dehydration rather than the maturing process, he explains. That can contribute to lower cluster weights.
“Even though our yields are down, we should be looking at a good quality crop with a nice concentration of flavors and good color,” Mitchell says.
There was only so much he could do in managing the crop to adjust for the drought conditions this year.
“Weather conditions can make a real difference in yields, and each vintage is different,” Mitchell says. “Maybe that’s the take-home message from this season. You can’t have it great all the time.”