Two words best summarize the 2015 vintage: EARLY & SHORT. When I reported on the 2014 vintage last year, I told you that since moving to Sonoma County in 2001, it was the earliest on record. During this past spring, I predicted that our harvest yields in 2015 would be less than in previous years thanks to our drought and drier than normal conditions during the months of January through March.
First off, there’s early and then there’s EARLY! Last year, we were early by about two weeks on average at most vineyard locations. Most wineries, including ours finished up with harvest activities by the end of October, something that by July I knew would occur due to early veraison. According to old timers who grew up in Sonoma County, 2015 beat all records. The first lot of grapes started arriving at the winery in mid-August. We began harvesting Chardonnay from our vineyard at the end of August, at least 15 to 20 days earlier than “normal.” By October 1st, ALL of our lots were not only harvested, they were also done with fermentation and pressed off. I call that crazy early… at least four to five weeks earlier than a “normal” year. This was caused, in part, by dry and warm conditions January through March when we normally receive a lot of rain. Part of this was caused by less fruit on the vine.
Speaking of which, thanks to our extended drought, we had an extremely “short” year, as predicted last spring. Grapevines set buds that encapsulate flower and grape sets a year before the actual bud ever blooms. Drought conditions during bud set stresses the grapevine translating into a lighter crop for the future year. By all accounts, yields were down 25% to 65%. My best guess is that Pinot Noir was effected the most by these conditions resulting in extremely small crop sizes. There has been disappointment by both growers and winemakers about the shortage of fruit. It’s hard to predict what effect this will have on the price of finished wine from the 2015 vintage. As for quality, time will tell. In some cases, decisions to pick occurred because sugar levels dictated the decision, while grape ripeness (the browning of the seeds) hadn’t yet fully occurred. At Inspiration, we’re cautiously optimistic about all of our lots, everything can surely be rated in the GOOD category. However, I’m not sure I’m ready to call this a GREAT vintage.
As for where this leaves us for 2016 and beyond and what’s normal? It’s hard to predict, but I will say this… expect another short crop, thanks to a very dry 2015 spring. And if the El Nino predictions come true bringing above average rainfall, perhaps the growing season will return to “normal” and 2017 grape yields will recover.
From Barbara and me, wishing you a wonderful fall!
Jon Phillips, Winemaker/Owner