Which Santa Barbara Pinot Vintner Is the Last to Blink?

Brian Loring waits until the last moment to harvest his 2009 Pinot Noir crop
Oct 23, 2009

Quien es mas macho? Chuck Norris or Brian Loring? Well the answer clearly is Brian Loring…  Tomorrow, on Oct. 24, we pull the last Pinot Noir at Cargasacchi Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills for the Loring Wine Company. Their lower section of the 420A rootstock with Pinot Noir clone 115 block is always the last to ripen and this year is no exception.

Brian and his sister Kim didn’t think the ripe flavors they wanted were there before last week’s rains, nor afterward, so they pushed their picking date to tomorrow. Today we are taking a break from rolling up the bird nets on the other blocks and going through the last Loring block and performing our normal final pass, looking for and removing any fruit that is damaged by birds, sunburn or possible botrytis. The fruit looks great, with dark skins and seeds, as well as very ripe stems. The flavors are vibrant and zingy with surprising acidity.

To the grapevine, the hanging fruit does not exist for the purpose of making wine. Rather the vine is using the fruit to disperse its seeds. The fruit is there to attract animals and birds that will spread the seeds far and wide. As it hangs, the fruit becomes more flavorful and darkly colored, telling anyone and anything that sees it, “come and get me baby!” As much rouge as these berries are wearing I am sensing a passionate wine in their future.

The pink Pinot Grigio (ramato style) we were fermenting in a chilled stainless steel tank for our Point Concepción Celestina is almost dry. The other component of this same wine that we fermented in a mix of neutral and almost neutral oak barrels finished fermenting seven to 10 days ago. The wine in tank will be racked into neutral oak barrels this weekend with some suspended yeast still in the wine. These fine lees will settle and contribute texture and flavor to the wine as the yeast break down and to some degree dissolve. The barrel-fermented wine was stirred every day during fermentation, but not after completion. These two components were both inoculated with malolactic bacteria to initiate the secondary fermentation. Typically this wine starts the ml ferment and then, for some reason I do not understand, it stops on its own before completion of ml. The two parts of this wine, one slightly richer and creamier and the other fruitier and brighter, will be blended together before bottling sometime in March.

We also harvested our Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay from Santa Maria this week. It was the last Chardonnay to be picked at Sierra Madre, and the clusters were an intense bright gold color. The juice is sitting in a chilled tank blanketed with argon gas getting cold and settling out most of the solids as it clarifies. Sometime this weekend, part of it will be racked to oak barrels and the other part to stainless for fermenting. I will be using three different yeast strains for this wine. One is a strain from Alsace that I have never used on Chardonnay that I will try in a few barrels because it interests me. The other two yeast strains are my workhorses that I have used for several years. One is from Burgundy and contributes great midpalate richness and roundness, while the other is a strain from South Africa that tends to produce very fruity esters. These will be fermented separately and ultimately blended together before bottling.

I have started to press some of the first Pinot Noir I picked, and at this early stage the wine tastes delicious, bright and red-fruited, with a very round mouthfeel for being so young. The flavors are intense and concentrated, reflecting the third year of drought we are in, but they are ripe, as the result of more than seven weeks of hang-time since veraison, when the berries completed coloring.

But now it’s time to switch to harvest mode and getting this last block of Loring in. This late in the season, I am not sure how much more Pinot Noir is still hanging in California, if any? Brian may be the last one to pull in Pinot Noir fruit for the 2009 vintage? Some of the readers may know that Loring is working on a Cabernet Sauvignon-Mourvèdre blend that is inspired by his love of Spanish wines and his travels to Spain. With this Spanish wine connection, combined with Brian being the last to pick and potentially being “el mas macho," I am wondering if I should buy Brian a pair of Matador pants to wear at Wine Spectator's New York Wine Experience? The only question is: In New York at this time of the year, is it leopard print or standard black?

Harvest Red Wines United States California Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2009

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