The 2011 growing season has come to an end and the Canelo Hills vineyard is all set for its winter sleep. You may recall that in August 2010 an unprecedented hail storm (The Storm) delivered a severe whack to our vineyard, the effects of which carried over into this year. After The Storm defoliated the plants, they still had a couple of months to figure out what to do and decided to try to grow another crop. The growth of any particular season sets the crop for the next. The growth was not vigorous after The Storm, so the subsequent crop (i.e. 2011) was destined to be light.
The 2011 growing season started with a series of frosts. I read somewhere that a grape vine can mount 7 efforts at new growth each year but after the fourth or so there will be little or no fruit set. We had three frosts between bud break in mid April, and one last frost in early May. Each frost killed the new growth and greatly reduced the potential crop. But the brave vines kept on trying and we did get some fruit set. Fortunately, after that last frost the remainder of the season was rather gentle on Canelo Hills Vineyard. No major weather or pest events threatened the grapes, and as usual Joan's farming resulted in fabulous fruit.
We ended up with a modest amount of Tempranillo and a smattering of the rest. We harvested about a ton and a half of Tempranillo on September 19. The fruit was beautiful. Joan and our volunteer picking crew scoured the rest of the vineyard and came up with a few hundred pounds of mixed Syrah, Zinfandel, Riesling and Malvasia.
There have been a few light rains this Fall already and the frosts have been decided but gentle. Almost all of the plants that started out in 2011 have survived the growing season. It is always a mixture of sadness and relief when I clean up the press and push it back into the winery for the winter, awaiting 2012. Such is the cycle of winemaking.
Our Volunteer Harvest Crew
For millennia farmers have learned the lessons that I was taught in 2010. A dramatic and violent hailstorm on August 15 (“weather event” in metrological lingo) essentially wiped out the vintage. Much earlier, a hard freeze in the late spring knocked down the crop, but the vines bounced back under the care and attention given them by Joan. We were excitedly looking forward to having most of the vineyard mature enough this year to give us a bounteous crop.
Alas Mother Nature had other ideas. Sixty minutes of 60mph golf ball sized hail stripped the leaves off the plants and macerated the fruit. In the aftermath of The Storm we focused on supporting and protecting the vines and after a series of conversations with fellow wine grape growers and various consultants we decided to pick everything even though most of the grapes were 3-4 weeks away from harvest. Taking off the grapes would allow the damaged plants to focus their energies on repairing the wounds and getting ready for winter.
We did manage to salvage one barrel of a field blend of absolutely everything – Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Zinfandel, Riesling and even a few clusters of Gewürztraminer – and one barrel of Tempranillo. It will be a challenge to transform these wines. The field blend is saying to me that it wants to become a sparkling red wine (that will be a wine to celebrate!) and the Tempranillo (because it was a bit more ripe and closer to harvest) looks like it will come around.
Fortunately I did manage to secure some lovely white grapes from Dragoon Mountain Vineyard and some beautiful Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from Rancho Rossa Vineyard. This will give us enough wine from the 2010 vintage to bridge to 2011.
The lesson was a difficult one for the two of us and truthfully it took a toll on our psyche. It did however refocus our energies and made us even more dedicated to the mission of creating wines from locally grown Arizona fruit. We were tempted to bring in grapes from California but decided in the end that we are committed to sharing our world and love of Arizona through the wonderful wine we can make here.
2009 promises to be a remarkable southern Arizona vintage. The season started out with a late frost in mid April that knocked off the early varieties – mostly white grapes. In Cochise County that meant a drastic reduction of most white grapes. For the Sonoita/Elgin area it translated into a somewhat reduced fruit set for white wine grapes and the early reds such as Syrah. The rest of the season was nearly ideal. The drought that gripped most of Arizona left us with a half to a third of the rain we usually get.
Although the puny monsoon meant more irrigation it also meant little hail damage, much less insect pressure and virtually no mold and rot. We were able to let the fruit hang on the vine until it was prime. One totally bizarre storm cell in mid September dumped more than an inch of rain in an hour - rain that was mixed with 20 minutes of hail. Initially it looked like the result was a massive loss of the ripe Syrah and Tempranillo, but it turned out that mercifully an adequate leaf cover protected the fruit clusters during the storm. After this “weather event” we had a week of dry, breezy weather. The damaged fruit dried up. The crop loss was minimal. The fruit was spectacular. The wine is dark, concentrated, earthy, fruity, true to variety and has that unmistakable Sonoita quality.
A series of business and personal life influences, combined with a rainstorm on the morning of the planned harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon, resulted in a delayed picking of the maiden vintage of these grapes. Thankfully a trusty band of volunteers helped bring in the fruit, which was beyond ripe with extremely high sugars. So my plans for an elegant first vintage Cabernet Sauvignon morphed into plans for a dynamite port style wine. Live and learn – one of the lessons of the vineyard/winery life. Little bits of Estate Riesling, Zinfandel and Mourvedre supplemented the harvest and will allow me to experiment with these minor plantings.
I’m very excited about this vintage. I think it will prove to be one of the legendary vintages of Arizona wine history.
The growing season was rather gentle this year. Gradual onset of heat in the spring; not much violence in the storms; only a modest amount of hail that didn’t do much damage; rain spread out fairly evenly throughout the summer; no threatening hurricanes to rush along harvest; mostly dry during harvest. In fact it was a pretty ideal year in terms of weather. Deer – gone. Coyotes and birds got their share, but it was manageable. As it turns out the summer was rather cool in southern Arizona – only 50 days above 100 Degrees in Tucson, which translated to a generally cooler growing season for us at our elevation just shy of 5000 feet. That meant a later harvest by 2-3 weeks and riper fruit with not quite so much sugar as in years past. Our own fruit was beautiful – the second year of harvest for the Tempranillo and the third year for the Syrah. We even got a small amount of Zinfandel, Riesling and Mourvedre which I batched together in my Scavenger’s Blend. For the first time we called on several volunteers to help harvest and it went very well – they had fun, the fruit was as fresh as it could be.
Again this year I got Chardonnay from Arizona Stronghold Vineyards. Sadly no Riesling, but I did manage to get a ton of Syrah. Peter Lechtenbohmer from Sweet Sunrise Vineyards provided some spectacular Malvasia, Syrah, two clones of Sangiovese (clone 2 and Brunello) and Nebbiolo. Also sadly, no Zinfandel this year (a total loss due to bunch rot) but the Nebbiolo was cropped at about half the yield of last year and hung on the vine about 3 weeks longer so a robust Nebbiolo is now sitting in oak barrels.
The initial harvest and press yields were slightly increased from last year in all areas which will result in an ample supply of the 2008 vintage wines. It’s hard to imagine being more excited about a harvest then last year, but I am.
Whereas the rest of the world struggled with hail or cold weather or rain, in Arizona we were fortunate to have very mild weather during the harvest of 2007. The heavy monsoons let up around mid-August, and although there were a few scattered storms, it was just enough to continue to stimulate the vines and did not interfere with the harvest schedule. We were not troubled until the threat of hurricane Henriette down in Baja Mexico. Although it never materialized as a major storm, our worry about it hitting our just ripe fruit with what was described as “major rainfall” prompted us to harvest the Tempranillo and Syrah in our vineyard. The fruit as it turned out were in perfect balance and are becoming splendid wines.
As accommodating as the end of the growing season was, it made up for a difficult beginning. A violent hailstorm in June that blew in from the Northwest damaged a lot of the just developing fruit clusters. Fortunately the clusters on the eastern side of the vines were relatively spared and the damaged berries either dropped off or turned into raisins that then added an interesting complexity to the must. We were visited by deer, ravens, birds, beetles and caterpillars this year, but nothing to a large degree, which allowed the vines to motor along and they produced. We let the fourth year Syrah set as much fruit as it wanted, and dropped about half of the fruit from the third year Tempranillo and Syrah vines in order to reduce the stress on the developing plants. The fruit was lovely and the wines will show that.
In addition to the Estate Syrah and Tempranillo, I got Chardonnay for a sparkling and a still wine and Riesling for a still wine from Arizona Stronghold Vineyards in Cochise County, Arizona. Those fruit will make splendid wines and I’m very excited to make another run at creating sparkling Chardonnay. Peter Lechtenbohmer from Sweet Sunrise Vineyards in Cochise County, Arizona, delivered some glorious fruit this year. His careful farming produced an outstanding Zinfandel that is dense and rich. It was so ripe and complex that I stopped fermentation of a small batch in order to make a Zinfandel fortified sweet desert wine. He says the Syrah he delivered is the best Syrah he has ever grown. This is my first year working with some of Sweet Sunrise’s Nebbiolo. I am thinking of making a rosé from this Italian grape and also a sparkling version. I’ve never heard of a sparkling Nebbiolo, but the young wine is crisp, focused, and brilliantly tart so I’m eager to see how it’ll be with a charge of carbon dioxide. A bit of Malvasia and two clones of Sangiovese round out the rest of the grapes from Sweet Sunrise. One of the Sangiovese clones is a special growth of the Brunello clone. It was marvelously ripe and rich and I put the young wine in some of my best oak barrels to push it to the limit of its potential.
This year’s production will about double the amount of wine from 2006 and will present me with the dilemma of whether to bottle and sell or continue to age some of the more complex wines.
For other farmers I’m sure there was some memorable weather characteristic of 2006, but for us the regular visitation by deer was the threat that dominated all growing considerations. We thought the crop for our first harvest of half an acre of Syrah was a total loss, but miraculously the deer were stopped, either by our hastily erected fence or because they finally found enough food in their natural habitat after the rains started. Grape vines are surprisingly resilient and want to make fruit in the worst way, and so they did. Harvest began on September 4, 2006. The harvest was interrupted by a terrible rain and driving hailstorm, but somehow we managed to collect 1000 pounds of fruit. The remainder of our grapes came from friends and growers in Cochise County, Arizona, and some cabernet grapes from Eldorado County, California. All our 2006 wines are now for sale in our tasting room, which is open Fridays and Saturdays.