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Justin, we’ve heard this is your 30th harvest season. Congratulations! What a milestone to reach, and during the Joseph Phelps 50th harvest season too. Thank you for taking time to answer a few questions.
What are some of your most memorable harvests over the years and why?
My first harvest at Freestone in 2007 was very memorable. It was the start of a great opportunity in that there was a new winery on the Sonoma Coast built by Joseph Phelps, and it was really one of the first big commitments to the region from a very reputable producer. When I was hired, construction on the winery was almost complete. I had the fun and challenging task of outfitting the winery with all its cellar equipment from tanks to fittings. When harvest arrived, it was in early September that year, and it was a great team and excellent quality fruit. Just an all-around memorable experience!
How was the growing season leading up to harvest 2022 on the Sonoma Coast?
JE: The growing season leading up to harvest was normal except we experienced a substantial cold snap during bloom in early May. Freestone didn’t see any frost or hail damage, but it did extend how long the plants took to finish bloom. Then right as harvest kicked off, we experienced a heat wave in September that affected almost all growing regions in Northern California.
How did the heat spike in early September affect your picking decisions?
When the heat wave hit the first week of September we were already under way with harvest. We had about 20-25% of our crop in. In terms of damage, it didn’t affect us. The one silver lining of the heat wave on the Sonoma Coast is that the nights cooled off nicely. This allowed us to pick in the middle of the night while it was cool. I loaded up the calendar with picks and the team was able to pull off all the fruit I scheduled. This also minimized any damage that could have transpired.
You picked your last Pinot Noir on September 12th. Is this the earliest harvest in Freestone?
2015 is still the earliest harvest out at Freestone with our first Pinot Noir for still wine being picked on August 15 in 2015. 2022 is second by only 8 days, but it is a record in how fast the fruit came in and how soon we finished picking both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The reason that we finished so early was due to small yields and the heat wave. We picked very fast to minimize any damage. Pinot Noir yields were down due to the multiple years of drought in California. Cluster and berry size was very small, but this led to very concentrated flavors, amazing color, and quality.
How has the fruit quality and flavor profile emerged in the fermenting wines?
Fruit quality in 2022 is very high. With the low yields and very small cluster and berry size this tends to give very dark, concentrated flavors in the fermented wines. I backed off on the usual amount of whole cluster I used because I was worried about there being more impact from the stems due to the berries being so small and the rachis being normal in size for some clones. This is something I did in 2015 as well. Overall, I am very happy with the flavors in the wines we have drained and pressed. They are darker in color, have great concentration of flavor leaning to blackberry and blueberry flavors. Overall acid levels are balanced, and I am excited to see how they will age in barrel.
Your early thoughts or predictions for the 2022 vintage?
For most this will go down as one of the fastest harvests on record with low yields but great quality.
Anything else we should have asked you?
Well, when it was brought to my attention that this was my 30th harvest season, I was asked to share my biggest take away from working in the industry. Here is what I said: