Michael is writing this one, since he’s the one doing the grape harvest.
If you had but one word to describe the simultaneous occurrence of the entire baseball post-season plus the entire football season and post-season and let’s throw in the Stanley Cup and the NBA Finals – coming down to a single do-or-die event played out with no cheering section and no audience support but also no second-guessing commentary – it’s Grape Harvest Time, 2022 Edition.
Always a tricky proposition because you can’t bet on weather or growing conditions, unlike being able to predict the fall of the SF Giants and SD Padres against our mighty LA Dodgers – yes I’m in LA, deal with it – because if you make travel or vacation plans in September, you’ll taunting the vineyard gods into throwing you a curve ball.
The curve ball this year is an early harvest from areas not known for August harvests.
The Antelope Valley in the northern Los Angeles County had been a predictable bellweather for the rest of the season. The month of August was typically a few days of harvest spent in triple digit temperatures picking grapes. For the record, Barbera was and is the best grapes to come out of the AV in my opinion. But the loss of several vineyard properties due to generational changes helped create an illusion of a harvest-free August until…
This year’s challenges
Tempranillo (a red grape grown in the warmer climates of Spain and quite a tasty wine) from Ramona Valley came in a couple weeks ago. Albariño, a white Spanish grape known for pairing with seafood) arrived from Lodi last week, and Italian varietals from Murrieta such as nebbiolo, sagratino (look it up – it’s hard to find) are on their way. Last year, these all came in early September, but not this year. This August will end with chardonnay and pinot gris from the Paso Robles Eastern section with yields down by as much as 40% from last year.
Why is this happening? In a single sentence, it’s drought and climate change.
Drought reduces the ability to water the grape vines to their potential. Reduced watering can lead to an instinct bent on surviving until the next winter and its promise of abundant rainfall. This year’s grape harvest will be recorded as a short vintage, meaning fewer grapes and possibly a shortened or compressed harvest cycle. Add to that a labor shortage no less challenging in agriculture than it is in construction or any other industry you can mention, and an increased use of harvesting machines (which means more stuff like leaves and branches from the vineyard that need to be removed before the grapes get processed into wine).
Pondering grape harvest
So why do I do this? I usually have a moment during the annual ritual of turning blood and sweat into wine where I consider whether I need to do this. Can’t I be content with $7 wines from Trader Joe’s or Grocery Outlet (an LA wine drinker’s prayer answered).?
But I also have a ready answer to that existential crisis. What would a writer say? An actor? An artist of any other classification? Can they do anything besides what they do for a living? I have the option of following a passion that I don’t need to do to survive. I can back off on the winemaking if the thrill is gone. But so far it isn’t, even though the effect of certain longer days wears off a bit slower at the age of 61 than it did at a youthful 41.
Every year is different and I only really get to do the craziness of grape harvest once a year. Do I have another 20 years left? I hope so.