The 2023 growing season is off to the races. Spring started off cool and wet, but by mid-May the vineyard experienced warm dry weather. The full soil water profiles in our vineyards and warm weather sparked rapid canopy growth and has continued to push our vineyards through the major phenology stages 3-5 days in advance of historic records. Here it is mid-July and the winemaking team is already collecting crop estimates and evaluating crop loads.
The 10-day forecast bodes well to push many varietals through lag phase. (Lag phase is a term when the berries reduce in size and the seeds start to mature by changing color and hardness.) So that means the grapes are not far off from veraison (a term that describes the change in color of the grape berries). This indicates that the grapes are getting ripe –particularly at DD and Rocky Reach Estates vineyards Early ripening is one of the benefits of farming these warmer sites in the Rocky Reach AVA.
Our vineyard crew has done an incredible job matching the pace of growth in the vineyards and is currently leaf-pulling. This allows for light and airflow to easily move through the dense canopies. Hat’s off to the vineyard team as they work diligently to tame the vigor of this growing season while upholding our SustainableWA farming practices.
Guests attending the Estate Vineyard Tour experience in late July and August are in for a treat and will be able to experience the clusters changing color and taste the early development of flavors from the vine. As a winemaker, my favorite part of the growing season is tasting the fruit as it progresses into full maturity. The connection with any given wine starts in the vineyard.
Superstition would advise against harvest predictions, but the early ripening we are experiencing is positioning us for another stellar vintage at Rocky Pond.
– Elizabeth Keyser, Winemaker
Harvest in our vineyards officially kicked off on Thursday, September 15th. After a slow start to the vintage, the steady and warm weather we experienced at the end of the month was exactly what we needed. Now we are off and running — it’s going to be an extremely busy October and November for us!
The big challenge now will be continuing to hang fruit for some of our later-ripening varietals. Despite our warm sunny weather this month, Washington is not immune to an October frost!
So we are working with the vineyard team led by Shane Collins, Director of Viticulture, on frost abatement strategies. Shane has been redeploying wind machines from our orchards into the vineyards. It’s definitely been a vintage of innovation and collaboration for many reasons. Responding to challenges together with Shane has been great. We’re true partners and collaborators.
And hats off to our vineyard crew, who have patiently been waiting on the sidelines to jump in there through a really long, cold summer. And now we’re going to be asking them to put in some really intense work throughout the rest of this month and November. So it’s good to see that they’re excited and dedicated despite the slow start.
One of my favorite aspects of this vintage has been that the initial slower pace allowed for some great team bonding and learning opportunities. I think back to my time as winemaker for a much, much larger winery — you know, I didn’t have the opportunity to have that hands-on connection and interaction with our cellar team in the way that I’m being able to experience it now. It’s been really refreshing to have more of a tactile approach and just to interact with the amazing people on our vineyard and production team.
Something that has been really fun was getting to add some state-of-the-art new toys to our winery. For instance, we recently upgraded to an optical sorter. My job as a winemaker is to really respond to changing fruit conditions and refine the sorting criteria in real time. And as much as the vineyard crew works really hard to do an even and clean pick, the optical sorter provides a greater level of precision. Especially in a vintage like this where we are inevitably going to be harvesting fruit quickly towards the end, it’s going to be giving us the ability to really kind of dial in the exact berry that we want and give us higher selectivity. We’ve also upgraded some of our harvesting equipment with new technologies that really allow us to control the maceration and the extraction in a way that will be huge for us.
Another major investment was in our barrel program this year. We increased the number of puncheons that are coming into our barrel inventory to house our reds. I’m really loving our Rhône program in puncheons so far. I think it’s helping to elevate the fruit characteristics and give this beautiful structure and flavor without dominating it in the way that a traditional barrel would. We’re really kind of looking at our barrel program as elevating from the Cadillac to the Rolls Royce. We had really, really good barrels before, and now they’re going to be even better and more fine-tuned for optimal expression in the wines.
And then the biggest is our winery expansion. We’re almost completed with face to face to construction, which provides us with an expanded and covered crush pad as well as an additional fermentation room. And then, you know, as a winemaker, I love trials. And I think the way to approach winemaking is through curiosity. And so this year, since I’m working with several varietals that I haven’t worked with in a number of years, I’m excited to start playing around with some inclusion and whole cluster for our program, working on some co-fermentations. If the stars align, I’m going to do a Grenache Marsanne coferment trial. And Syrah and Viognier is a classic co-ferment, right?
So we’re excited to experiment! But at this point, it’s all about bringing in fruit. We have a good game plan. We have a great team that’s all coming together nicely. I’m excited to just get more fruit in the house and continue to play!
— Rocky Pond Winemaker Elizabeth Keyser
“If you take a look back, we’ve already passed the amount of necessary growing degree days from our historically coolest and rainest vintage in 2011. This bodes really well for flavor development in our later ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah,” Liz explains. “Heat is a double-edged sword, of course. Too much and you risk sugar accumulation without the necessary phenolic ripening, so we’re spending a lot of efforts right now on canopy management in the vineyards.”
Liz and Director of Viticulture Shane Collins have been working closely on developing a precision canopy management approach to really help increase phenolic ripening. As a result, Rocky Pond’s vineyards are responding well to the heat, demonstrating healthy canopies with a full set of fruit.
This two-pronged approach to vineyard management includes a laser focus on leaf pulling and green thinning, which helps with ripening, dehumidifying, and crop reduction. This way the vines are putting all their energy into ripening the optimum amount of fruit — and exactly the right clusters. “The clusters are massive right now,” Elizabeth explained. “And so we’re also working to trim those clusters, down them to where it’s just going to be the yummy, juicy, good fruit.”
“We’re already refining our cellar practices and staging the wines well enough in advance so that gravity is actually doing a lot of the work of settling the lees (remaining yeasts) versus using fining agents. Even the most state-of-the-art fining agents aren’t selective. The best practice is to start with a wine that is microbially sound and then let nature and gravity do the rest.”
Each one of our 2020 wines is unfined and unfiltered. And Liz is particularly proud of the 2021 Tumbled Granite, which has even greater clarity and purity than the excellent 2020 release.
Liz and the team truly take a holistic approach to winemaking. Dedicated to sustainability, they understand that the concept goes even beyond vineyard practices and cellar management. It also extends to the care and consideration we show our teams. “As a company, we have been thought leaders in that space. As we continue to grow, we’re looking at the whole picture.
Sustainability also means that our employees need to have financial support and stability. This means providing things like housing for our vineyard crew, equal access to healthcare, and benefits, and that’s reflected in our certification by Sustainable WA. But it’s something that we’ve always had as a core practice.” We’ll be sharing more from Liz as harvest approaches, and as always feel free to reach out to us with any questions about Rocky Pond. We are so thankful for your support and are looking forward to an exceptional vintage!
Our award-winning single vineyard Syrah from our DD Estate Vineyard in the Columbia River Valley
“This is a classic expression of Syrah from the flagship DD vineyard, perfumed with brambly fruits, black tea, and gravel. This wine shows its youth with chewy yet precise tannins and layers of sweet kirsch, blueberry compote, savory olive, and signature minerality of DD.” – Liz Keyser
Double Gold 96 pts. Sunset International Wine Competition!
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