Jordan Wine Country Table - Vol. 16, 2021 - 16

2020 HARVEST REPORT
The Year To Forget Yields
Memorable Wines
BY MAGGIE KRUSE
T
here is a saying that many winemakers live by in Wine Country: It takes a lot of great
beer to make great wine. At the end of a long day of crushing grapes, a cold beer is
what we crave. But in 2020, the adage changed. It took a lot of great whiskey to make
great wine. Beer simply wasn't going to cut it last year, and for me, Whistle Pig came to the
rescue. Where do I begin to discuss the challenges of making great wine in the 2020 vintage?
BEAUTIFUL BUD BREAK DURING LOCKDOWN
The vineyards awoke from winter dormancy in mid-to-late March
and began pushing their buds around the time the pandemic
shutdowns began in America. The world seemed so unstable then,
and the vineyards felt like the safest place to be. Walking between
rows of grapevines is naturally a socially distant activity, and it was
business as usual throughout spring. Bud break in both Russian
River and Alexander Valley were right on time for their respective
regions, and the baby buds looked uniform. Spring was warm and
sunny, though light rainfall at the end of the season interrupted
the flowering of chardonnay vines, reducing the crop by about 20
percent. The red varieties did not bloom until after the spring rains,
which led to an average, balanced crop. Summer of 2020 was warm
but nothing the grapevines couldn't handle and only two major
heat spikes. Apart from COVID, most of the 2020 growing season
seemed wonderfully uneventful, which we winemakers love.
PREPARING FOR A SOCIALLY DISTANT HARVEST
Heading into August, we were optimistic and excited for the 2020
vintage. The crop looked beautifully balanced, and our main
concern was how to keep our crew healthy and free of COVID.
We developed a plan to operate with a very small seasonal crew,
without international interns due to travel restrictions, and to
quarantine our harvest crew from the rest of the winery. We worked
within a very strict bubble. No employees except the production
team were allowed to walk through the cellars or into any winemaking
area. Back-up staff were trained and ready in case someone
from winemaking got sick or exposed and needed to stay home.
LIGHTNING STRIKES
With all of our pandemic plans in place, we waited anxiously for
the grapes to reach full maturity. But two weeks before harvest, on
August 17, a rare lightning storm blanketed Northern California
with more than 10,000 strikes. Hot, dry winds followed, and
more than 350 different spot fires ignited over five different
counties, including the Walbridge Fire in northwestern Sonoma
County. While Jordan and the Alexander Valley were never in fire
danger, a few of our chardonnay vineyards in the Russian River
Valley were at risk, as well as one small hilltop cabernet sauvignon
vineyard in east Dry Creek Valley. While wildfires in California
aren't unusual, fires just before harvest are.
Winemakers were extremely concerned about smoke tainting
the grapes on the vines. If the wildfire smoke penetrates the grape
skins, it will impart a smoky, off-putting flavor in the wine. As the
slow-moving fire inched along, our hands were tied; the grapes
weren't ready to be picked and close to half our chardonnay fruit
was inaccessible inside fire evacuation zones. We tracked wind
direction and drove around looking at the smoke plume. There
wasn't much else we could do but wait and worry. I spoke with
many of my colleagues, and we all agreed that we had never been
so stressed and exhausted before harvest had even started.
CHARDONNAY UNSCATHED
Once evacuation orders were lifted in Russian River Valley, we
began conducting our own tests on chardonnay grapes because
the laboratories were estimating 6-8 weeks to receive smoke taint
test results. We needed answers within days, not weeks. My years
16 THE GRILLING ISSUE

Jordan Wine Country Table - Vol. 16, 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Jordan Wine Country Table - Vol. 16, 2021

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