As 2023 comes to a close, we reflect on the odd yet promising vintage we encountered. In the wine business, we thrive for gentle variations in the growing season year after year. It creates differences in wines that are subtle yet impactful. 2023 was one that left us on the edge of our seat at every turn. A year that made our members wonder “will there be grapes to harvest?” A very valid question. However, the most questionable vintage can often lead to the most interesting wine.
As many of you remember, January through March offered some of the wettest months we have endured in Santa Cruz County in several years. Soquel had an overflowing creek and roads completely washed out. Not to mention our very own flurry of snow in February kept things interesting. All that water posed little threat to our Estate vineyard as we sit atop the hill here on very well-draining soils. Nonetheless, it set the tone for an unusual year ahead.
Spring came late with continued wet and cool conditions that pushed fruit set back. The pressure of potential mildew and mold became an increasing concern as the conditions continued. We presumed that this vintage would yield lighter than average quantities. Small bunches and berries seemed to be on par with previous years.
Summer rolled through with dry and cooler than average temperatures allowing for slow yet steady growth. We had only a couple of heat spikes this year which is unusual yet beneficial for the cooler climate varieties like our celebrated Pinot Noir. Veraison, the change of colors of the grapes, began August 11th on the Estate.
As the growing season grew later, we needed extraordinarily forgiving weather to get the fruit ripe. Sure enough, we got it! A warm September and October offered its daily dose of sunshine to secure the ripening process. The Estate vineyard was harvested October 5th, naturally in the middle of the heat wave. Although harvest dates were a full month later than normal, the grapes came in with just the right qualities we had hoped for. In the 37 years of history for Soquel Vineyards, this is the latest overall harvest we have ever faced.
Historically, the signature of a quality vintage is dictated by a long, cool, and dry growing season coupled with lower yields. When you have a long growing season, you often have mature, ripe, well-developed fruit at a lower than usual harvest sugar (brix), which results in lower alcohol levels aiding to a wines great complexity and potential ageability. To sum up this season and how it relates to the quality of the vintage, we’ll have to be patient for the results, but this IS that season.
-Jon Morgan, Partner