Oliver's Thoughts on Harvest 2023
By JoAnn Cherry and Oliver Mikkelsen
Like last year, harvest was a whirlwind. The difference between the two growing seasons was that 2022 was hot and fast with most grapes in house before the end of September. The 2023 growing season was cool and slow but once things started to ripen mid October, it was a relatively quick harvesting window. It will be fun to compare the two distinctly different vintages in a few years. I asked winemaker Oliver Mikkelsen what his thoughts on the 2023 harvest were.
J: This was your 4th harvest with us. How does it compare to previous years in terms of timing and flow, climate and ripening?
O: This harvest was great! That's not to say that the 2020, 2021 and 2022 harvests were not, but the 2024 harvest is bordering on exceptional. The quality and concentration of the fruit is phenomenal and we have a lot of it! In terms of timing, we were quite late compared to what is considered average. Anywhere from three weeks to a month depending on variety. And that's coming off of a year (2022) that was very early, which made the ripening this year seem even more delayed. Because of the cool spring and early summer we saw an extended flowering period and cooler growing season which delayed ripening.
J: What was the biggest challenge you encountered this harvest? I would imagine the anticipation was a challenge.
O: With the long flowering period and the cool growing season, many varieties that usually ripen at different times, reached maturity all at once. This resulted in an onslaught of fruit that made logistics, such as tank space, our biggest challenge. The delayed nature of the growing season certainly had us twiddling our thumbs in the beginning, but it gave us an opportunity to adequately prepare and also work on some miscellaneous projects that would have normally been pushed to the back burner. So it may have seemed like a challenge at the time, but it worked out in our favor!
J: Any highlights this harvest season?
O: The biggest highlight for me this season was the combination of higher than average yields with higher than average quality. Additionally, we know that next year's growth is already programmed in the vine and has been irrevocably influenced by the growing season we had this year. With the abundant rain and the slow, cool growing season the growth next year will only benefit.
J: Which variety are you most excited about?
O: I'm excited about all of them but I'm most excited about Clairette Blanche and Grenache, for different reasons. Clairette was one of the few varieties this year that we saw an unusually high amount of shatter in. For those of you who don't know what shatter is, it's a phenomenon where some grape flowers fail to set fruit, resulting in incomplete berry development within the cluster, ultimately reducing yields. These reduced yields resulted in better flavor development and more concentration in the remaining fruit. I'm excited about our grenache this year because the acids began to precipitate out at lower sugar levels which resulted in more balanced, flavor ripe wines at a lower alcohol content.
J: What is the 2023 vintage doing now? Still fermenting? Is everything through Ml?
O:The majority of the vintage has finished primary fermentation with a couple stragglers almost dry. Everything that is sugar dry, is slowly ticking away at the Malolactic fermentation. We don't inoculate our wines and we do a cold MLF so it often happens quite slowly.
J: When will you put these blends together?
O: With the exception of our Rosé and carbonic Grenache (Soul) which will be blended this coming January, the rest of the wines will spend the next year in their individual lots and be blended in January of 2025.
J: Did you do any co-fermentations?
O: Yes, we did a few co-ferments this year. Our Highroad blend, which is a mix of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and comes entirely from the James Berry Vineyard, was picked together and co-fermented. We also, co-fermented Grenache with Carignan and Grenache with Mourvedre from our Estate.
J: Any carbonic fermentations?
O: We did two seperate carbonic fermentations this year. Our usual carbonic fermentation is of Grenache and becomes our Villa Creek Soul, but in addition to that we carbonicaly fermented a small amount of carignan and we're really excited with how it has turned out.
J: How are things tasting? Do you think the vintage will be strong?
O: Things are tasting great! I'm very happy with how this vintage turned out and I think that it'll prove to be one of the strongest vintages in the last decade. But of course, only time will tell!