One of the greatest fallacies ever perpetrated upon an unassuming California winemaker was this: “Every year is a great year in California!” This was the underlying belief I carried with me when I founded LIOCO Wine Company in 2005. The thesis was this: while the rest of the wine producing world struggled with chronically poor weather, spring frost, summer hail storms, rot, etc. the blessed California coast always received abundant Mediterranean sunshine and ocean-cooled nights, and the resulting wines achieved a balance long the envy of the wine producing world.
But alas, “every year is a great year” is not how I would characterize the last 17 years of making wine here. Record drought, record frost, record fires, record floods, a new insect pest every year, labor shortages, etc. Vintage 2022 certainly kept us on our toes.
The 2022 Harvest Journey
What began as a relatively mild and in many ways ideal growing year was thrown into complete chaos on Labor Day Weekend with the advent of a “heat dome event” (new term for me). We are used to Indian Summer heat spikes that come and go before returning to seasonal temperatures. But this heat dome brought record high temperatures for a sustained 10-day period.
The entire state of California set about trying to harvest their grapes. Cabernet vineyards were being picked along with our best Pinot Noir vineyards. Chardonnay vineyards with Sauvignon Blanc. And so on. The time-tested harvest choreography that has sparkling grapes as an opening act and Cabernet closing it down was thrown out the window. We were fortunate in being able to pick about 70% of our grapes prior to the heat dome. But we also were forced to continue harvesting vineyards in the midst of it. One day it was 118° on the crush pad! Our team showed great fortitude on those days (thank you to our Tasting Room team who moonlighted and came to the aid of our production team).
The heat finally broke…only to be met with a record-breaking September rain. It’s hard not to root for rain in California. And Healdsburg wineries all did a little dance. But the few vineyards that have not yet been picked are now in danger of succumbing to rot. We are monitoring this situation on a hour to hour basis.
Net net, I think this vintage will be more of a Tale of Three Vintages. It will be (1) wines from grapes picked before the heat dome (2) wines from grapes picked during the heat dome and (3) wines from grapes picked after the heat and the rain. Saving Grace: the miracle that is fermentation often surprises us. We have had many experiences with fruit we felt would not make world class wine, complete fermentation and deliver us wine with world class complexity. Nature has a sense of humor is seems, so we shall see about 2022!~