We harvest our grapes in two countries—the U.S. and Israel. So I have the pleasure of working two harvests simultaneously every year. Challenging…but not impossible.
In Israel, harvest kicked off quite early for certain winegrowers. Many began picking their grapes in July. And a few were practically finished before we even started. That’s not because we wait longer to pick than most. It’s just because Israel (like California) has many diverse microclimates. We picked our grapes when they were ready, beginning with Viognier from the Upper Galilee on August 15. It came in with low sugars, beautiful flavors and terrific acidity. Currently in barrel, we’ll bottle this BLUE C Viognier in January for release in February or March. Shortly after the Viognier, we brought in Carignan for our rosé program, which we whole-cluster pressed. That wine is tasting great now too. It will also be bottled in January.
At Tzivon Vineyard, also in the Galilee, we are sourcing some of our best Syrah from Israel’s only certified biodynamic vineyard. And not surprisingly, the grapes serve up a richness of flavor reflected in the resulting wine—some of which is destined for Covenant Israel Syrah and some for Covenant Israel BLUE C Adom.
Syrah from Tzivon’s Biodynamic Vineyards in the Galilee
In the Golan Heights, our Tel Faris grapes ripen up a little later than those in the Galilee–especially the Cabernet Sauvignon that we source there. It came in September 27 and was the last pick of our Israeli harvest. All of our fermentations are now complete and tasting really good. We are jazzed!
I’d call Israel’s 2018 harvest smooth, generous and relatively easy. I predict the wines to be equally generous in their expression of fine Israeli terroir.
Our U.S. program was a bit more challenging this year than what we experienced in Israel. We started off the season with one of the largest wildfires in California history in Lake County and Mendocino County. It burned some 450,000 acres and shrouded many vineyards in smoke as the grapes were ripening to maturity.
Punch downs outside in the California Sun
Some vineyards were affected more than others. But our Lake County Sauvignon Blanc seems to have emerged from this inferno without any smoke taint, and the resulting wine—our first Sauvignon Blanc from this vineyard—is gorgeous. It will be bottled in January.
The rest of harvest season unfolded beautifully throughout northern California, with steady sunshine and moderate temperatures that allowed both white and red grapes to achieve beautiful maturity without becoming overripe. There was no real pressure to pick early or late. We were able to wait until flavors, tannins and acidity were perfect. It was interesting to note that across the board, our sugars at harvest were significantly lower than usual—probably the result of this year’s relatively mild heat.
Cellar Master, Eli Silins, cleaning out our tanks
The resulting wines are quite elegant, and I believe that 2018 will be known for superlative quality, especially among wine aficionados who are accustomed to drinking the best of the best.
Oddly enough, when we thought it was safe to breathe easy, a new fire—Camp Fire in Butte County—emerged on November 7. As I write this blog, about 150,000 acres have burned; the entire town of Paradise has been obliterated; and 88 people are confirmed dead. Seven hundred are still missing. (In southern California, many of Malibu’s homes and vineyards were also burning simultaneously in what is now known as the Woolsey Fire. This fire destroyed a significant portion of Southern California’s gorgeous coastal community.)
Both Butte County and Malibu are hundreds of miles from the Northern California wine country and San Francisco Bay Area. Harvest was essentially over as well. But the smoke from Butte County descended upon urban centers like San Francisco with vengeance. It was the worst air quality the Bay Area has ever seen; and most everyone I know developed some kind of respiratory infection.
Our smallest crop—late harvest Chardonnay from Scopus Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain—was finally ready to pick on November 15. Fortunately there was no smoke at the top of this coastal mountain. As I posted on social media, these wrinkled, “ugly” grapes are destined to produce some of California’s loveliest dessert wine. Reminds me of a fairytale we all read as children…
Nonetheless, Harvest 2018 was marked by fire. We’ve heard from some of our politicians that the fires stemmed from poor forest management. And while this may be true to a certain degree, don’t let anyone try to tell you that climate change is not also part of the equation. After the widespread fires of 2015, 2016, 2017 and now 2018, I think it’s safe to say that there is a paradigm shift here. Fire is now a greater threat to agriculture in California than rain during harvest.
It’s dangerous to call a vintage exceptional before bottling the wines. But—despite the flames–I’m bullish on this most recent one. What I’m tasting in barrels is outstanding. Young wine that’s really good tends to get even better with age!