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Now: Steve and Dan at Yosemite 2015

Then: Loie, Dan, Steve and Theresa taking a break from bottling our first vintage in 1999.


Harvest Memories 2015 and BeyonD...EARLIEST EVER?

Yes, it’s true, this was the earliest harvest in Steve and Dan’s career. It began for Dutton-Goldfield on August 18, although Dutton Ranch picked some fruit for sparkling wine even before that. It ended for DG on September 28, and for all of Dutton Ranch on September 30, making it the earliest finish on record for Steve. The year was defined by its start of a beautifully warm and completely dry January, which woke the vines up early and brought us budbreak well ahead of schedule. Because of our cool and wet May weather during set (when the berries pollinate), the yields are down considerably this year, which added to the early finish: it doesn’t take as long to ripen fruit when there’s not as much on the vines. Chardonnay fared better than Pinot, but both are down 20%-70%.

With this unusual year (although, we often ask, what is “usual” these days?), it made us think back to other years that were like this one. Dan thinks 2015 was most like 2003, which also had a tiny crop and cold May, then a short and warm harvest. The fruit was also similar, with tiny berries that ripened quickly. Prior to this year, it was our lightest yielding vintage, with the chardonnay crop as low as our pinots. Those wines are still some of Dan’s favorite, with very concentrated pinots, which are showing great now (if you have any in your cellar, give them a try).

For Steve, this year made him think of 1997, which also had an early warm spring that jump-started the growing season. It held the previous record for early harvest end at Dutton Ranch, wrapping up on October 4. That harvest went longer than this year since it was a heavier crop. Steve’s children—twins—were born that harvest season, making him comment that everything was overcropped that year! That was also the year that Dan was first introduced to Rued Vineyard: Kistler Vineyards had a contract on the vineyard, but in 1997 they told Steve they didn’t need all the fruit, and would be happy if he could find a buyer for 20 tons. Steve called Dan at La Crema the day of picking to ask if he wanted it. Of course, Dan said yes, although he had never even seen the vineyard. A few days later, he gets a call from management, asking if he “had accepted an unauthorized load of fruit.” This was probably about the time Dan began thinking that starting his own winery might be a good idea! As good fortune would have it, Dan and Steve were able to get the fruit long-term when they started Dutton-Goldfield, and Rued Vineyard was added as our first single-vineyard chardonnay offering in 1999.

On the other end of the spectrum, there have been a lot of late vintages. We wonder if we’ll ever see those again, like 1991 that didn’t even start for Dan at La Crema until October 1! Many years when Steve was growing up working at the ranch, they’d still be picking into the second week of November. Until now, our Syrah was usually picked in late October or early November. This is always the vineyard that Dan is sure to show up for on picking day (it helps that it’s late enough in the season so it’s not a night pick), to celebrate the crew and the end of harvest for DG.

Previous to these last couple years, Dan’s mantra was always “no fruit in before Labor Day.” If a vineyard came in earlier than that, he’d drop it from contract next chance he got. We’ll see if our “new normal” means Labor Day is truly a day of labor in the winery now!

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