Hancock Winery’s 2017 vintage will long be remembered as a challenging year…thanks mostly to the weather.
In early Spring, things in the vineyard actually looked promising. The Central Coast saw one of the largest rain falls in recent history over the winter. So much rain fell, that the National Weather Service downgraded the five year drought from ‘extreme’ to ‘severe.’ And while that might not seem like a big deal to some, to grape growers it was music to the ear. Throughout the Spring, the vines in the Allan Hancock College Vineyard looked great. As we approached harvest, it appeared as if we were headed for a picture perfect growing season…and that’s when Mother Nature reminded us who is really in charge.
A series of extreme heat waves slammed the Santa Maria Valley. The result was a sudden spike in sugar levels. Then a rare late season rain drove temperatures back down, along with the sugar levels. The rain also introduced another problem…Botrytis. Botrytis is a fungus that can cause grape clusters to rot. In Europe, Botrytis is actually desired. Known as ‘Noble Rot’, grapes with this fungus are used to make wines such as Rieslings. However here in the Central Coast, Botrytis can decimate an entire crop. Luckily for us, Ric Fuller, our head vineyard manager and instructor of the Vineyard Operations course, knew exactly what to do. While some might have been tempted to harvest the grapes early in order to prevent Botrytis from taking hold, Ric’s decades of experience told him to take another course of action. He directed his students to increase leaf pulling and then ensured the rows were properly treated to prevent a major Botrytis outbreak. Then, when the grapes reached optimal sugar and acid levels, he oversaw a spectacular harvest.
Chris Brown, our head winemaker and instructor of Wine Operations, took over from there. After receiving the grapes from the vineyard, he quickly set his team of students to the task of transforming the grapes into wine. Over the next several months, grapes were de-stemmed, pressed, and inoculated with yeast. Careful measurements were taken so that Chris and his students knew exactly what needed to be done. By the end of the semester all of the wines were looking great, so they transferred it from the tanks to the barrels so the wine could age and mature.
With the challenges behind us, Alfredo Koch, the department head for the wine program, knew exactly what he needed to do….throw a party. On 27 October, 2017, Hancock Winery held an open house Harvest Event. Wine tasting, along with wood-fired pizzas, proved to be the perfect way to celebrate our accomplishments. Hundreds of people from across the campus and the local community attended the event. Everyone toasted another successful harvest and the promise of another great vintage.