Placerville, El Dorado County, CA (January 21, 2020)–The holidays are behind us, the new year upon us, and, finally, the vintners of the El Dorado AVA in the Sierra Foothills of California feel comfortable in assessing the conditions and results of their 2019 harvest!
With vineyard elevations from 1,200 to more than 3,000 feet, subtle diurnal swings, and a longer ripening window, El Dorado AVA’s vintners are usually the last to report on their harvest. With extreme geology, some 70 varietals, and this year’s power shutoffs added to the mix, viticulture and winemaking was vexing — but that’s how this hearty band of vintners likes it.
Chuck Mansfield and his father, Ron, run Goldbud Farms, a respected vineyard management company in Apple Hill in Placerville. Goldbud manages vineyards all over the AVA. Chuck reports: “The 2019 vintage was very temperate and downright cold at some of our higher-elevation sites. This allowed for ample hang time and slightly lower Brix than we typically see across most varieties. Winemakers were able to accurately predict the progression of Brix and flavor development, and as the grower, we were able to maintain a manageable pick schedule. The leisurely pace led to a later season than normal. The only real adversity revolved around the PG&E power shutoffs, preventing a few deliveries to wineries until they received power.” He adds a note looking forward: “At Goldbud, we typically like to prune as close to bud break as possible, so although we miss out on some workdays, we welcome the rainy weather through January to fill the soil profile, build a snowpack, and help fill reservoirs.”
Paul Wofford, owner/winemaker at Wofford Acres, speaks on specific varietal challenges this year from the perspective of his Camino vineyards and winery in the southern reaches of the county: “Harvest 2019 presented some difficulty. A warm January led to snow in February. Late-spring frost and rain gave a lot of needed moisture and also gave us a good start to mildew that we seemed to battle all year long. Our Cabernet and Syrah were hit, yet our Nebbiolo and Petite Sirah had a stellar year. Gewürztraminer and Viognier were picked about two weeks later than usual, but the fruit looked great! The future seems to hold more of the same in terms of weather — periods of dryness, with heavy, unseasonable rain and snow. We seem to be at the extremes of our Mediterranean climate.”
Paul Bush, owner/winemaker at Madrona Vineyards and Rucksack Cellars gives his perspective from vineyards in the AVA’s southern reaches as well as vineyards in the north’s Pleasant Valley region: “As luck would have it, the fall weather was spectacular — well, kind of. The late August and early September temperatures (which often are very hot) stayed mild and beautiful. Some local growers battled some mildew, yet the potential quality of the grapes with the great weather was exciting. As usual, we start to race the clock for finishing before the weather changes — and then the weather changed! Two storms in September at the beginning of picking brought 2.6 inches of rain. Our earlier leafing to assure vines get airflow paid off in spades. We had another bit of luck come our way. After all the rain, the temperatures at our high elevation remained cool, around 50s and 60s. Bunch rot needs some warmth to really get going, and there just wasn’t enough. The result was just a nice wash of the season’s dust off the leaves, making the photosynthesis potential better for late-season ripening.”
Wine grape growers and winemakers are used to turning on a dime to attend to weather conditions, but Paul Bush describes two things that test a vintner’s grit: “The first is wildfires, (specifically smoke), and the second is mandatory power shutdowns as a new norm for abating wildfires. Our region had relatively little fire action and consequent smoke taint. The PG&E power shutdowns really underscored the importance of electricity during harvest. A short shutdown can be countered with planning and maybe a generator, so no picking and only minimal wine work was the rule of the day. With planning, I was able to ‘over-chill’ some tanks in prep for the shutdowns.” In the end, Paul says, “the vintage, with all its challenges, produced a solidly large quantity of crop with positively stunning quality for us.”
To see a snapshot of the entire year according to Paul Bush, check out: https://mymadrona.com/
The El Dorado Winery Association (EDWA), is an association of wineries located in the Sierra Foothills’ El Dorado County. Active members, united through cooperation, encouragement, shared knowledge and education, strive to improve wine quality and the tasting experience. High elevations and cool climate mark it’s distinction as one of California’s unique wine regions.