Saturday, November 5, 2011

2011 was Challenging Year for Petite Sirah:El Portal Vineyard, CALAVERAS COUNTY, Harvest Report

Mark Skenfield, Viticulturist with Vinescapes Vineyard Management, sends this Harvest Report from one of the vineyards under his management, the El Portal vineyard in Murphys.  Grapes from this vineyard are used to produce the wines for Newsome-Harlow Winery of Murphys in Calaveras County, CA

The El Portal vineyard in Murphys, Calaveras County, has 3 separate blocks of Petite Sirah planted specifically for Newsome-Harlow Winery.  The vineyard is organically farmed by Mark Skenfield of Vinescapes Vineyard Management with meticulous attention to all viticultural practices.  Through pruning designed for low yields, careful selection of shoots, agressive fruit thinning and specialized fertilization, El Portal produces pristine, intensely colored Petite Sirah ear-marked for a premium bottle of wine.

Varieties like Petite Sirah, which love warm weather for ripening, had a challenging year this year.  2011 started out cool and didn't reach typical summer temperatures as often as previous years.  This caused increased issues for disease, irregular fruit set and ripening and stretched the harvest season much later than growers like.  Vineyard managers had to earn their pay this year.

The grapes that were lucky enough to come off the vine early in the harvest, looked less stressed than normal and developed complexity without reaching excessive sugar levels.  Later ripening varieties, like Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel had to ride out some heavy rains and some extended hang-time before being harvested.  Sometimes the looming potential for rot forced the wineries hand to bring the fruit in a little earlier than they normally would like.  Other times, the berries didn't look as pristine as they normally would.  Sugar levels in these varieties didn't reach the heights they normally achieve, but the fruit came in with mature characteristics - minimal "green" qualities with lots of complexity. 

Ultimately, the fact that grapes were often picked with lower than typical sugar levels actually can benefit wines by holding the alcohols levels down and helping fermentations complete efficiently.  If vineyard managers were diligent and tended carefully to the challenges presented from the 2011 growing season, winemakers still had quality fruit to work with to create solid, albeit uncharacteristic foothill wines. 

More about Newsome-Harlow, from their website:

Scott and Melanie Klann created their own label, Newsome-Harlow, in 2000 with a couple of partners and a small batch of wines crafted from premium Calaveras County grapes. Scott's original partner and life long friend, Mark Skenfield, was one of those who started the winery. The name Newsome Harlow is the combination of the maiden names of Scott and his original partner, Mark Skenfield, a long time Calaveras resident and vineyard manager.

Their first vintage — a mere 150 cases — was sold exclusively to those on the winery’s mailing list. Ten years later, Newsome-Harlow is recognized as having some of the best wines in Calaveras, and produces 3,200 cases of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc and five signature Zinfandels that sell out each year.

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