Will 2016 be the vintage of the decade?
2016 marks the fifth vintage that I have worked alongside my partner and friend, Lane Tanner. One of the things we love about making wine is that every vintage is different. While some tasks in the winery may seem mundane, the uniqueness of every harvest ensures that the work never gets old. Even Lane, who has been making Pinot Noir for upwards of three decades in this valley, relishes each year’s harvest as though it were her first.
Every now and then a vintage comes along that winemakers describe as having “perfect numbers.” What that means is that the fruit has a perfect balance between acidity and sugar. We measure this in three ways: titratable acidity, pH, and degrees brix. As fruit nears maturity in the vineyard, Lane and I sample the fruit every few days and measure these three things, from which we glean sugar levels (brix), and acidity (pH and TA). We use that information, along with the flavor we taste in the grapes, to make one of the most important decisions we will make all year: when to call the pick. And, muy importante: we won’t call the pick, no matter what the sugar or acid, until the fruit reaches an appropriate complexity of flavor.
Perfect numbers are usually a result of cold nights and warm (not hot) days during the ripening of the fruit. As fruit matures, it’s sugar goes up and its acid goes down. Cold nights keeps the acidity from decreasing too quickly, as does a lack of extreme heat during the day. 2016 seems to have produced the perfect combination of weather patterns in the Santa Maria Valley, yielding fruit that has reached flavor maturity much earlier than normal. What that means is that we are able to pick with lower sugars- and higher acidity – than any harvest I have seen before.
So what does that mean for the final product? The 2016 wines will have impeccable balance, lower alcohol, and a striking acidity. They will also age phenomenally well. Paint by numbers might not be what most people call “real art.” But perfect numbers for Pinot will most certainly be.