After several years of dry, mild winters, 2023 finally brought some wet and cold weather. The winter months leading up to the growing season gave us substantial rainfall with over 36 inches by mid-January. We also saw several snow events up on the mountain at Monte Bello.
Cover crops were abundant due to the wet conditions which brought crucial nutrients and imparted greater health to the vines. Bud break at Monte Bello was three to four weeks behind normal. Due to cool temperatures, we were into the third week of April before bud break was complete across all blocks on the mountain. Flowering did not occur until late May for the Chardonnay and mid-June for the red varieties. Mowing, weeding, and foliage management were top priorities in May and June as the soil moisture encouraged rapid vegetation growth.
Below-average summer temperatures and cool nights at Monte Bello meant that the fruit set was late and not complete until mid-July. Once veraison finally started in August, we were able to assess the crop, which was showing to be well above normal yields. Some minor fruit thinning in select parcels allowed the vines to be brought into balance for more uniform ripening. August’s mild weather further delayed the ripening process. At this point, we were about three weeks behind our normal schedule for the anticipated start of harvest.
The first fruit to come into the winery was the Evangelho carignane and zinfandel on August 31st. Yields were very high with big clusters and big juicy berries which produced above average gallons per ton. Mild weather continued into September, and we were able to harvest the mataro from Evangelho and neighboring vineyards on September 7th and 13th.
With the delayed harvest came some unusual ripening patterns. The extra time on the vines meant that the fruit from many different varieties and locations were all ripening at the same rate. This brought some logistical challenges in the cellar while trying to produce grenache blanc, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay from multiple AVA’s all at the same time. Other challenges of the late harvest were the low pH and high acidity that was the result of the cool weather. Ripening was very slow with some varieties literally holding at a standstill in their chemistry for a week to ten days. Patience was a virtue this year.
The chardonnay was picked between October 3rd and October 31st. High yields coupled with intensely flavorful juice was a welcome change for the 2023 chardonnay programs.
As we entered October, we still had a lot of fruit out in the vineyards. Rousten Ranch had much of its crop unpicked at this time. We were not out of the weeds yet as rain threatened the remaining crop. On September 28th, we received 0.2 inches of rain and another 0.4 inches on October 21st, and finally 0.2 more inches on November 4th. Fortunately, there wasn’t any damage to the thick-skinned varieties. As it turns out, the waiting paid off because shortly after the rains, we had a beautiful week of sunshine and warm weather that pushed temperatures into the mid-70’s and gave the vines just enough warmth for a final push of sugar levels and a raise in pH levels. The last wave of fruit came in at a very high level of quality. Our last pick was on November 10th.
2023 was a vintage of many challenges and was a true test of patience. It required stamina and clever decision making. Paul Draper told me that he thought that the 2023 vintage was the most unique and challenging he has seen in his 50+ years at Monte Bello.
In total, we fermented one hundred twenty-two individual small lots from ninety-eight parcels. Picking was strategic, prioritizing the blocks with higher pH numbers. The lots ranged in size from one to fourteen barrels. All varieties fermented out with incredible color, extraction and quality. Some of the best lots of the vintage are those which were picked toward the end of the harvest. The extra time allowed the vines to release their water and regain their balance of sugar, acid and tannins. Fortunately, the Bordeaux varieties were closer to normal for yields this year.
Now that most lots are dry, we have tasted through the cellar and concluded that the vintage looks promising. The vineyards produced some excellent wines, but careful and rigorous selection will be necessary during the assemblage. Tasting will begin for the first assemblage in just a few weeks. This is an important process in which we bring together the best vineyard parcels for each single-vineyard wine. We will examine sixty-four lots. This process will be done while tasting blind with varietals and parcels randomized in flights.
Despite the challenges of cool temperatures and rain, we are excited about the quality of the wines we have been able to make in 2023.
—Trester Goetting, Monte Bello Winemaker
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