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Stories from the valley

A Harvest Like No Other

Contributed by Eileen Javora Boeger

Take a pandemic, add a splash of record-breaking heat, toss in extreme smoke and you have, drumroll… grape harvest 2020! We thought the pandemic would likely grab the headlines for grape growers and wineries heading into our busiest time of year but it is turning out to be perhaps the smoke that will be remembered most as the season goes in the books. 

Almost halfway through harvest and there really hasn’t been a day without some smoke. We count our blessings as most of the fires this year have been hundreds of miles away. With an extreme fire year though, it seems no one has escaped the choking air. The health and safety of our crews has been our number one priority. We always have our n-95 masks readily available and require them for crews when the air quality index rises above 300 deeming it unhealthy.

sunset over wine vineyards

Many have asked about smoke taint or the smoky characteristics showing up in this year’s vintage. And the truth is we don’t really know yet. Labs are few and are backlogged with tests that will show if smoke compounds have made their way into the juice. There are many more wineries much closer to thicker smoke than us. We will see how they fare. 

As for the heat, we did see a fairly typical range of temperatures through most of the summer so things were rolling along as we would like to see them. Good fruit set, nice warm afternoons. Then came the end of August. We had temperatures above 100 for a few days. Somewhere around 100º, along with other factors, vines can start to shut down photosynthesis and stop ripening until temperatures drop and the vines recover.  In some years, this can delay harvest for several weeks.  In 2020, the heat seems to have had an impact on some varieties, but in our case it created a welcome respite to the onset of harvest, and we don’t foresee any negative consequences. 

grapes on the vine

The quality of fruit is the shining light in this season.  Sugars, flavors and colors in the juice are exceptional with everything seeming to be in near perfect balance.  The result is less stress for my husband, our winemaker, and more importantly, better wine for 2020! Who knew there could be some good news out there!