Thank you to everyone who has been in touch to inquire about how Côte West fared with the Sonoma County fires. While we feel grateful that Côte West was barely impacted, many of our colleagues in the industry were not so lucky. The damage is truly heartbreaking. If you’d like to help, we encourage donating to the Sonoma County Resilience Fund which is focused on the mid to long-term needs of Sonoma County to recover and rebuild from the devastating fires.
Harvest is always a frantic, exciting, chaotic time. But this year brought way more drama than usual. Leading up to harvest, we collect grape samples to taste and get precise readings on sugar content, acids, and pH. At the same time, we’re in close contact with the vineyard managers who walk the rows every day and have incredibly helpful insight from years of experience managing the same land. We use these factors to forecast a pick date and as that date approaches, we line up logistics like renting a truck.
This year, the record-breaking heat wave in early September left us very little wiggle room for getting the grapes off the vines. When it’s that hot, even one extra day of hangtime can significantly bump up the sugar (and therefore potential alcohol). Seemingly all white wine grapes and Pinot Noir in Northern California wanted to come off the vines at the same time. Our Pinot Noir came in first, a couple days before Labor Day. The Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and our newest variety we’re working with this year -- Grenache -- were all picked within the following seven days. Needless to say, early September was a blur.
The late-ripening Counoise, which we use to make our rosé, was all ready to be picked on Monday October 9. But as Bret was driving the truck north from Oakland before dawn, he smelled smoke in the air and heard on the radio about the massive Tubbs fire, which was quickly expanding around Santa Rosa. He pulled off the road at Petaluma and noticed a massive stream of traffic heading south, and no one but first responders heading north. Minutes later Highway 101 (a major freeway) was closed after flames had jumped across the 8 lanes. The Counoise comes from Dry Creek Valley, which is to the northwest of where the fires had broken out, but there was simply no way for him to get there. He turned the truck around and drove home. As the sun rose, it was an eerie deep red in the smoky skies.
Fortunately, the freeway was open again by the next day and Mounts Vineyard was kind enough to reassemble the picking team to accommodate us. Bret was on site by 6am to help pick, and on the way back home, he saw charred hills, homes, and businesses between Windsor and Santa Rosa and noticed guardrail posts still smoldering.
Because Dry Creek Valley was relatively far from the fires, we’re not too concerned about any smoke effects on the grapes, but we’ll be monitoring it closely (Leia is tasting the Sauvignon Blanc juice, just to be sure). Our hearts go out to all the people and businesses affected by the Sonoma County fires, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Cal Fire for their tireless efforts in keeping the flames at bay. This is a year that won't soon be forgotten.