This is my 24th vintage as a professional winemaker, and in that time I have written many sets of notes on harvest. Some were ecstatic, some more reserved, but never have I been as sad as I am while writing this one. Most of you already know about the highly unusual, lightning-sparked fires we had in August here in northern California, and many of you have been dealing with them personally.
I often say that winemaking, like any craft, requires knowing when and how to use the various tools at your disposal, but I’ve never had to just close up my toolbox and walk away before. We have white wines for 2020, and they look terrific so far, but we don’t have any reds. Our vineyards sat in the smoke for weeks, and based on lab tests, picked up significant amounts of smoke taint compounds.
What happens is that the chemicals in the smoke soak into the skins of the ripening grapes. With white wines it’s not a problem, because we don’t use the skins. White grapes go straight into the press, we squeeze the cold juice out, and turn the juice into wine. Reds, however, spend around two weeks on their skins during a warm fermentation, so any bad stuff gets extracted along with the good.
We are absolutely committed to putting only the best wines possible into your glass, so we put the red grapes on the ground and plowed them in to nourish the winter cover crop. Heartbreaking but necessary, and not something we did lightly. As the vines now head toward dormancy, I can only wish them well, hope for better things in the coming year, and try not to mourn what might have been.