Harvest 2021 Wrap-Up
By: George Balling
And they’re off! The annual exclamation of grape growers and winemakers across the appellations of the Western US was heard this week, tinged with a collective sigh of relief, and maybe just a bit of excitement for most involved. The devastating wild fire season of 2020 is finally behind all of us in the wine industry as most everywhere, with a few exceptions we will discuss shortly, with a smoke free year. We couldn’t be happier for all of our grape growing friends.
The weather degraded hard this last week across the West with substantial rainstorms approaching or already started from Southern California North to Washington and into Idaho and Oregon. We heard from several growers and winemakers this week that had allowed fruit “to hang” and get just a bit more complexity were now in full speed ahead mode to get the grapes picked before the rains arrived. The forecast across California is for drenching rains throughout the weekend, and for the vineyards of the Northwest enough rain is forecasted to be damaging to unharvested grapes.
While the lion’s share of the West made it through 2021 without smoke damage the one exception is parts of Oregon. The big fires there clearly affected some grape stock but no where near the amount of other recent years. The largely smoke free year was a relief beyond words after virtually all of the crop being destroyed by smoke last year. One cautionary note on wines from 2020 that came out of Northern California, we have heard that a large amount of smoke tainted wine hit the bulk market, so caution is warranted for private label wines from last year. We are certain that some will try to market the smoke tainted wines as intentional, but don’t be fooled wine that is made from smoke tainted grapes is flawed and should be treated as such.
The big story for the 2021 vintage domestically was the hot dry growing season. The heat and lack of rain resulted in a smaller than normal crop. While the bundles were plentiful, the berries themselves were universally small, resulting in the reduced tonnage harvested. The quality of the grapes was very high, in many cases early assessments indicate the quality is among the best ever. The added “hang time” that many vineyards enjoyed until this last week further enhanced the caliber of the grapes.
We did learn this past week that some of the costal appellations of Sonoma County had enough moisture last winter and into spring that the crop was so big that fruit was dropped to thin the crop and enhance the quality. Interesting, given that some vineyards in Mendocino County where temperatures were so hot, they barely managed a crop at all. We know of one winery that harvests Carignan every year for their Rhone blend from Mendocino that ended up with no grapes at all.
With the heat across the West in 2021 sugar levels were fairly high, however the alcohols came in about normal. Grape growers and winemakers adjusted their harvest timing, picking as early as the beginning of September in many cases and also at the cooler times of day and night to keep the sugars in check. Like every year the alcohol is printed on every label of every bottle of wine, making the alcohol content available to wine consumers.
The news from Europe for the 2021 growing year was far less positive. The spring was very rough on the continent with every weather event from frost to hail and heavy rains. In some areas of France, the crop was virtually wiped out, and the overall harvest for all of Europe will come in somewhere around 70% below normal. The quality will also be diminished as the rough spring resulted in much shatter making the grape bundles inconsistent.
In Champagne and Portugal, it is very unlikely that a vintage will be declared for Champagne or Port in 2021 given the poor quality. When a vintage is not declared the wine that is produced from a year like 2021 is added to their blended vintage wine. In Champagne the multi vintage wines help a winery keep a consistent product in the market, and remain some of the best wines. For Port the wines from these tougher years are blended into their 10- and 20-year-old bottlings and the like.
We look forward to trying the first wines from 2021 next spring and will keep everyone updated on how they taste. Stop by the shop until then or send us a note for additional updates.