Is global warming causing us to have earlier harvests? I really have no idea. But I do know that both our California and Israeli grapes harvests this year seem to be the earliest in memory. I spent the first week in August visiting our vineyards in Israel and was astounded to see many normally late-ripening wines like Syrah precociously sweet and approaching maturity. One of my Israeli winemaker friends told me that he had already picked and fermented all his grapes by the first week in August! It was astonishing!
I then returned home to California, where we were picking Chardonnay in the second week of August. This, too, was unprecedented. Literally, the heat was on!
Fortunately, we had been anticipating early picks in both California and Israel. The conditions in both regions resemble each other. In fact, the Galilee is at times a dead ringer for parts of northern California. The Golan Heights also remind me of some of our vineyard areas in Napa Valley. For this reason, I believe that growing conditions in California and Israel are more similar to each other than they are to other famous wine regions like Bordeaux or Burgundy.
Because of the early harvest, barrels had been ordered, equipment had been checked out, and both the California and Israeli crews were ready for action. But traditionally most winemakers are hoping to take a little last-minute vacation in early August. This year, it just didn’t happen.
That said, not every grape is destined to be picked early. Our Syrah in California’s Bennett Valley had barely begun to turn red in early August. (We picked it September 28.) The same could be said for our Tzivon Syrah in the Galilee, which we picked September 27. The trick for any winemaker is staying on top of each vineyard to determine the optimal moment for picking. And depending on location and grape variety, pick dates can vary wildly. As a result, I spend more time in my truck driving around looking at grapes than I do in the cellar during much of the harvest. You can’t make great wine from anything less than great grapes. That’s why they say that wine is made in the vineyard.
Of course, cellar work shouldn’t be discounted. It is equally important. We picked our last grapes—Petit Verdot from Sonoma Valley—on October 10. And our last grapes in Israel (Cabernet Sauvignon from the Galilee) were picked October 9. All our-yeast native fermentations have proceeded smoothly, and the initial results are very encouraging. Once the wines are barreled down, we’ll monitor them over the coming year. Anyone reading this blog is invited to come see us at the Berkeley, CA winery for a taste of things to come!