The first grapes of the 2012 vintage glided down our sorting table this morning at 5 a.m. For the last week, we’ve humored the idea of Alexander Valley Merlot being harvested before Russian River Chardonnay this year because their sugar levels were charging ahead a week ago, but it was in fact Chardonnay (Dijon Clone 76) that broke the tape.
This clone is one of just a few imported from Dijon in 1984 by David Heatherbell, a professor of Enology at Oregon State University. These clones were given the “Dijon” title simply because of the return address on the shipping container. Dijon Clone 76 is well suited to the cooler growing climates of the Russian River Valley appellation. It typically ripens early and provides a wonderful aromatic complexity of stone fruit, citrus and minerality with lively acidity. Another 5-7 days may pass before our next Dijon clone of Chardonnay is ready to be harvested. With the cool weather we’ve had since last Friday, maturity of our earliest ripening Merlot vineyard blocks has slowed as well, so we might have to wait another week before harvesting our first red grapes. That’s one of the challenges of making a cool-climate Chardonnay and a warm-climate Cabernet Sauvignon–sometimes the grapes are ready to be harvested at the same time, requiring the winemaking team to be expert jugglers.
This morning was such a rush–being out on the crushpad in the dark with Winemaker Rob Davis, Assistant Winemaker Maggie Kruse and the entire 2012 harvest crew, plucking unwanted grapes off the sorting table. The air was thick with fog and lively aromas of fresh, crisp, green apple from the grapes.
Soon after sunrise, our traditional Blessing of the Grapes ceremony was held on the crushpad with all winery staff present to sample a taste of the freshly pressed 2012 Chardonnay juice. Rob calls harvest “Mother Nature’s greatest party,” so let the fun begin.