As another harvest comes to a close, Head Winemaker Pauline Lhote is already looking ahead to what the 2022 vintage will have in store for future wines.
Pauline makes one of the most important decisions of harvest: choosing exactly when to pick the grapes. That decision is both an art and a science, but ultimately it comes down to Pauline’s years of experience.
“The big responsibility I have is the picking decision, deciding for each block when and how much we harvest per day,” Pauline said. “For me, it's listening to my instinct. That's a big thing.”
Pauline’s instinct and experience were tested through the challenges and excitement of a memorable 2022 harvest. “I was pretty happy to have 16 harvests in my bag with me because otherwise, I think I would have freaked out and run away from this one,” she laughed.
How A Tighter Timeline Challenged The Team
Harvest typically takes place over about a month or a month and a half. This year’s harvest proved a unique challenge as many of the vineyard blocks were ready to pick in a very short period of time.
“A nice harvest is when you stay in the one location and you move on to the next...this year we had to be in every single vineyard all at once,” said Pauline. “I would say 80 percent was very condensed in two weeks, so it was very challenging and quite stressful.”
Pauline praised the team for rising to the occasion. “We had to push the team and the equipment pretty much to the max,” she said. “Obviously, people make the big difference.”
This condensed timeline was largely driven by the weather, Pauline said. “We had some heat, but honestly I feel like it's something we're going to have to deal with in the future with climate change.” An unexpected spring frost also hit some blocks, leading the vineyards to compensate and create a “second crop” that takes longer to ripen.
This year also shook up the typical order of harvest in our estate vineyards. “We typically start with Yountville, and this year Yountville was harvested the same week as Mount Veeder,” said Pauline. “The second week we nearly harvested every single location at once. This has never been seen before.”
Scenes Of A Harvest Under The Stars
We harvest all our grapes at night to get them in the best condition, even as this adds more challenge to harvest. “Everything, everything, everything is always harvested under the stars,” said Pauline. “They have guidelines from me to not start before it's dark and when the temperature has dropped.”
Harvesting in the cool nighttime Napa Valley air captures the essence of the fruit and preserves the aroma. It also means the grapes are already cold, so we keep our environmental focus by not needing energy to chill the juice when it arrives.
When harvest ends, the vineyard team gets a much-deserved break after all that hard work, but the months after harvest is when the process really picks up for Pauline and her winemaking team. This is when they begin the tasting and blending process.
“For me, this is where it’s most exciting,” said Pauline. “Those wines are finishing up fermentation, so this is a time when we review everything.” That extensive tasting and years of expertise will give Pauline an idea of how these wines will form in years to come.
“The first tasting of all those wines is a really important moment,” Pauline said. “That's going to give you a sense of what harvest 2022 was about and what the 2022 vintage was about.”
This is also when Pauline can begin to form ideas for new wines. CHANDON gives our winemakers the freedom to create, and Pauline feels most creative when she doesn’t have constraints. “Our goal is always to surprise, but we’re always committed to the highest quality.”
Even as one harvest ends, preparations quickly shift to the next. “Right now, we're already thinking about 2023 harvest,” said Pauline. “We're doing a recap of what we learned, what went well, what didn't go as well, and what we can improve.”
As Pauline begins to see the possibilities for fantastic wines from the 2022 vintage, there is one thing she doesn’t want to see after harvest.
“If you give me table grapes at home, I'm like, no way,” she laughs. “Because I've been tasting grapes for a month and a half.”