Harvest 2020 was looking to be a bright and shiny ray of sunshine to the year that was 2020. Fruit set went well, a little windy during flowering, but the berries looked good in the vineyards and the canopies were green and lush and showed little signs of nutrient deficiencies or pest issues. We had just picked Cabernet Sauvignon for rose off the Johnson Family Vineyard about a mile from the winery. It was pressed and put in the cold room and I was heading home for the night to get the girls for the next week. They were going to be with me attempting online school, while being driven around in the back of my truck looking at vineyards, picking up fruit, harvest related tasks etc...So, as I was leaving to get my darlings, I noticed some pretty gnarly clouds building in the south over the Canello Hills. The storm looked fierce and I wanted to get on the road before I got slammed. I learned in my 1st few harvests in Jerome, if you are not on the road to get somewhere by 3 pm you get stuck for minutes, possibly hours. Flashfloods are REALLY scary. The monsoon storms are NOT to be taken lightly in Arizona Wine Country, whether up north or down south. Once on the road I started tracking the radar (probably one of my favorite things to do) and I saw over Sonoita the cloud formations were pink. Now if you know the radar colors they go from light green – light rain, dark green – good amount of rain, red – heavy rain, then they go to pink – which means extreme rain and possibly hail. HAIL is NO BUENO FOR GRAPES. Are you freaking kidding me?!? This was happening to our precious vineyards that were looking SO GOOD leading up to harvest! I started getting pictures texted to me from my grower friends of hail coming down. Little pea-sized bullets of ice coming down sideways. Lots of wind with the hail! Well let’s just put a cherry on top of this shit fudge sundae! Sometimes it hails for just a hot minute.
In the Sonoita Valley the monsoon storms move in micro bursts, where the sky opens up and dumps rain in one specific place and the rest of the valley stays dry. Or the microbursts move along a little line and then once the moisture is gone its done, we get a couple rainbows and its over. This storm moved like that but, in an almost perfect line with Winery Row where most of the vineyards are located. Hail is no joke. It not only pierces the skin of the berries, it also shreds the canopy. So it punctures the precious skin protecting the sugary juice and the also ruins the ripening mechanism of photosynthesizing in the leaves. By the time the storm was finished it was night fall. The damage was hidden under a dark night sky.
The next morning the 1st text I got was from my friend Kent Callaghan who said basically, the vineyard is shredded – I cannot sell you fruit this year. Then Todd and Kelly – their Pronghorn Vineyard right next to Kent’s was thrashed too. The storm came in from the east and blew up the berries and canopy on the east side. By this point I was almost back to Sonoita and I went directly to Caretto Vineyard (where I get the majority of our fruit), metal T posts were snaped in half, vines were laying sideways on the ground. It looked like an animal ripped off all the leaves on the east side of the rows chewed them up and spit them out. The rows between the vines were covered in green gnawed leaves. The carnage was absolutely real. Most of the fruit was not even CLOSE to being through verasion (when the berries turn from green to purple) we could possibly pick everything and make a ton of rose. But my winery isn’t exactly set up for rose, we are more of a red house. It’s my 2nd harvest and I have no idea what to do with the fruit. Do we let it hang and see if it ripens? Drop it and call harvest a bust? Pick it all right now and make a shit ton of rose? Ugggg…what do I do?!?
Kent picked and made a bunch of rose and sparkling wines. Todd and Kelly they dropped the fruit and called it, depending on their Willcox vineyards for their 2020 vintage. I decided to let it hang and see if we could get the remaining canopy and sun to ripen the blown-up fruit. Lower alcohol and higher acid wines are my jam so I took a leap of faith and just chilled for a couple of weeks. This is what I saw…the canopy shut down, turned brown and the leaves died, but they still provided a little bit of shade from the sun so the berries didn’t totally burn. Sugar accumulation in the berries came to a slow trickle. I thought they might get rotty and vinegary – but they more just dried out. The birds and bees came out like gang busters and went to TOWN on the fruit.
After a couple of weeks I just threw in the towel and we started to pick everything, the sugars and pHs were all over the map. The fruit was schizophrenic. The skin to juice ratio was super strange. Punchdowns were like pushing through a weird type of mud. Usually the cap is pretty firm until broken up and the juice underneath is, well, juicy. These ferments were like pushing through oatmeal. As to be expected yields were half to two thirds less than the year before, I think due to the loss of juice once the berries dried out. But also to the birds and the bees feeding on the fruit like it was Thanksgiving dinner day over day, didn’t help. The ferments flew. They all seemed to move super fast. I had to manipulate my innoculations to lower yeast populations so they went a little slower and I could get more color extraction. They weren’t stressed ferments, just hyper.
My Willcox fruit was much more calm and normal. I usually only get fruit from Rhumbline Vineyard, but 3 other vineyards reached out to little ole me and offered me fruit. One of my mentors simply told me to just go pick up a ton and we’d figure out cost later. Later he said I had to treat him to dinner one day. The winemaking community is tight. I don’t have a single bottle on the shelf yet, and yet people who have been in this industry a long time reached out to me to help. If they didn’t offer fruit the offered to take my call with questions I had. Harvest 2020 bonded us. I know I will return the favor one day. The Arizona winemaking family is special…we are a small group of people trying to make wine in an insanely bipolar environment. I like the challenge and the rush. Just less hail please.
It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next post, I'll try to get the hang of it!