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‘SF Chronicle’ talks with Gavin on the 2013 harvest

‘SF Chronicle’ talks with Gavin on the 2013 harvest

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The 2013 harvest was incredibly quick this year, but offered amazinf fruit quality. San Francisco Chronicle wine critic, Jon Bonné talks with Gavin and other California winemakers on what they saw and what that means for the wines. Click on the link to read the full article.

Breakneck 2013 harvest brings a few lessons
Jon Bonné

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Harvest 2013, that is, which has come and gone in a flicker – one of the earliest in at least the past decade (starting, in a few cases, in late July) and one of the quickest.

If generous, moderate 2012 gave California’s vintners a break after two confounding, cold years in 2010 and 2011, this year was confounding in a very different way.

It’s not just that it was so early, although that raises questions about how we think about farming for wine in California. It’s also that ripeness came so suddenly, with most vineyards picked in a matter of a few weeks, that perhaps the best commodity you could sell in California this year was tank space to store juice from the flood of incoming grapes…..

Whether that sugar was matched by physical ripeness is something we’ll have to see once the wines are in bottle, but winemaker Gavin Chanin, for instance, found fully brown seeds in most of his grapes, which signals full maturity. And yet the grapes still had ample acidity, which often drops in the wait for maturity….

That said, the season itself wasn’t dramatically short – just more typical of elsewhere in the world. If harvest for wine grapes is typically planned for 100 days from flowering, many winemakers this year were picking around 102 or 105 days – if they had space. That only seems odd because California has grown accustomed to stretches of 130 or even 150 days.

All of which helps to explain the early opportunity for picking in the generally cold Santa Rita Hills, where a warmer than usual June and July, and then a cool August, hastened ripeness so that harvest could begin at the start of September, weeks earlier than usual.

The same was true at the Durell vineyard in Sonoma, where Chanin harvested on Aug. 29 rather than the typical Sept. 15.

Less than 10 days later, 80 percent of Chanin’s work was done for both his own Chanin Wine label and Lutum Wines, which he owns with Bill Price, who has ownership stakes in Durell as well as Kistler and Kosta Browne.

Chanin saw, both in fruit from his native Santa Barbara and from Sonoma, fully ripe grapes, with brown seeds and thick skins, moderate sugars and moderate acid levels – the sort of fruit that makes mellow, consumer-friendly wines.

“I think it shows that hang time isn’t your ultimate friend,” Chanin says. “This is going to be one of those vintages where there are a lot of lessons.”

One of those lessons: Winery space is not infinite. Chanin, for instance, had to juggle fruit from the Sanford & Benedict site and Los Alamos to the north, which ripened just two days apart – rather than the typical two weeks.