2014 was an interesting year for Paso Robles wineries.With yet another dry winter, the spring began with very little moisture and a warm start to the growing season. In general, most vineyards had a healthy fruit set with moderate temperatures during flowering. The growing season was somewhat uneventful, although many growers reported extra shoot thinning and fruit dropping due to the lack of rain. A heat spike in August had many winemakers scrambling with the threat of an early harvest and many vineyards worried about high pH and sugar levels. End of harvest reports from most winemakers came in claiming 2014 would be a good vintage for Paso Robles.
I decided to get the inside scoop from Jared Lee, Pear Valley’s Winemaker. The highlights from my interview are captured below.
Jared sampling the 2014 Merlot
Q: How long have you been making wine?
Jared: I began winemaking in 2008. I joined the team at Pear Valley in 2009 and was promoted to winemaker in 2012. One of the benefits of working for an all estate-grown winery is that I have control over all the fruit that enters the winery. Everyone knows good wine starts in the vineyard and I spend a great deal of my time on vineyard management and working with the crew to assist with pruning and harvest. We are currently producing under 10,000 cases annually, so I am able to closely monitor all of the wine from the time the grapes are harvested through to when the wine is bottled.
Q: How did the area wide drought affect Pear Valley in 2014?
Jared: With the lack of rain, the water level in the Paso Robles basin has dropped. Given the importance of reducing water usage, we irrigated using a great deal less water with more frequent sets to optimize the impact on the vines. We also dropped more fruit than we had in the past and, in fact, did two passes through the vineyard this year. The extra time in the vineyard resulted in higher labor costs; however, it was worth it for grape quality. Our average crop size across our estate vineyards was 3.82 tons/acre and we came in 8% under last year’s overall tonnage. The berries were smaller which means a higher skin to pulp ratio, resulting in deeper color, richer flavor and more tannins in our reds. Overall I would say the 2014 vintage is looking good.
Q: What do you feel was the best vintage at Pear Valley?
Jared: That is a really tough question. Each has a different attribute and some varietals do better than others in any given circumstance. If I had to pick just one I would say 2013 for the estate Bordeaux varietals and blends. The 2014 vintage also shows great promise for excellent Bordeaux varietals and blends.
Q: Was the 2014 harvest earlier than in past years?
Jared: The first grapes picked were Muscat Canelli on August 19th. Those grapes were sold to another winery. Our first grapes into the winery were Sauvignon Blanc on August 20th, while the last were the Aglianico on October 17th. The final grapes were pressed on October 24th, so I would not say it was an exceptionally early harvest. The high temperatures near the end of the growing season resulted in sugar levels that were a little higher than in past vintages; however, we were prepared and kept the alcohol levels in check by using special yeast.
Q: How many varietals did you harvest in 2014 and do you have a favorite?
Jared: We have 24 varietals planted in our three estate vineyards and all are now in production. Our most widely planted is Cabernet Sauvignon, with 13 acres planted. My favorite changes each vintage, right now I am having a love affair with our 2014 Merlot. The Merlot is super clean and is an excellent representation of our terrior. We are also making our first stand alone Barbera. It is always fun, as a winemaker, to have new varietals and blends to craft.
Q: What else was new in 2014?
Jared: We are making a new white dessert wine. We haven’t even given it a name at this point. I also added several new barrels this year — one of my favorites is a tight grain with a blend of oak from France coopered by Sirugue.
Q: When will the 2014 be released to the tasting room?
Jared: The white wines will be bottled in February and will be released some time in the spring. Most of the reds will spend a minimum of two years in the barrel and then at least 3 months in the bottle prior to release.We like to give the wine some time in the bottle prior to release and find some need longer than others. We only release wine to the tasting room when it is ready to drink.
Jared spends a great deal of his time checking on the vines since good wine begins in the vineyard.
Well, I have to wrap up this post by saying I was lucky enough to get to taste several of the 2014 wines in the winery with Jared. I was very impressed and believe the wines will be worth the wait. I have to agree that the 2014 Merlot will be exceptionally good and will continue to age well long after it is bottled. – Lisa Pretty