El Dorado AVA 2022 Harvest – Expressive!

El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills, CA. (October 31, 2022) — While 2022 harvest reports are a thing of the recent past by North Coast and Central Coast standards, El Dorado AVA in the Sierra Foothills just finished bringing in wine grapes from the 2022 vintage. The AVA’s vineyards are planted between 1,100 and 3,500 feet in elevation. Above 1,800 feet, growth starts 4 to 6 weeks later in the spring and as a result finishes roughly a month later in the fall. The fall ripening period is critical in distinguishing El Dorado from lower elevation locations. as phenolic ripening occurs when temperatures have cooled in late summer -a scenario that limits the loss of acidity and the accumulation of excess sugar. This delayed ripening window and cooler growing conditions is particularly important as climate change forces lower elevation locations to harvest earlier with lower acidity and lower phenolic maturity. The high elevations do however come with the risk of late spring frost, early fall snow, and the ever-present fire danger faced across the state, but the rewards of high elevation winegrowing are worth the risk.

2022 started with unseasonably warm weather in January and February. “February gave us almost two straight weeks of 65- to 70-degree days, unusual for the region,” says Derek Delfino, vineyard manager and owner of Edio at Delfino Farms. “This heated up the soil just enough to begin bud swell and just break the bud scales on a few of our estate blocks. Once the bud scales break, the temperature threshold for injury is higher than when the bud is fully dormant.”

Continuing into March, cooler temperatures seemed to be the answer to our collective prayers, but in early spring a severe cold event lasted for days.  The resulting frost was the greatest challenge for many of the region’s growers in 2022. Some growers lost up to 50% of certain varietals while others were unscathed. Topography and air drainage played an important role in determining the extent of the damage. Scott Johnson, consulting winemaker for Element 79<http://www.element79vineyards.com/> in Fair Play, the southern part of the AVA, explains, “Two poorly timed frost events certainly impacted things economically for many, as yields were down 30%-50% depending on the vineyard and grape variety. It was one of the worst I’ve seen in quite some time.”

With a slight unevenness in ripening due to multiple frosts, sampling was more tedious and flexibility in the winery was a lot more important. The locations and varieties relatively unaffected, especially Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, were on track for larger than normal yields.

Late spring brought welcome rain, which helped the vines establish lush canopies and good photosynthetic capacity, ensuring close to normal ripening curves. Several weeks of cooler weather led up to the start of the harvest in El Dorado. In early to mid-August, vintners started picking the earliest ripening varietals and grapes for sparkling wine production-about a week later than last year on average. On September 8th the Mosquito Fire started in Placer County, north of El Dorado. Thankfully, the prevailing winds and a well-timed rainstorm meant smoke had little impact on most of El Dorado, but it did push some to pick mid-harvest varietals earlier than anticipated.

The summer heat was not over: in late September, the region experienced two weeks of above-average temperatures, with readings in the high 90s. Johnson says, “The heat was a little challenging to close out this harvest, so expect some more concentrated, lower acid, bold wine in 2022. [But] smoke had no impact . . . this harvest. I would consider this a semi-normal harvest for the Sierra Foothills.” Paul Bush of Madroña Vineyards, located in the northern reaches of the AVA, says, “On average yields have been super light to extraordinarily light, but the quality so far is wonderful. Acids have been maintained well in comparison to warmer summers, like 2021. In El Dorado, the shorter growing season means our acidities have less time to drop, giving our wines their naturally distinctive, bright character.”

Nolan Jones, winemaker at Lava Cap Winery, stated “overall the whites are extremely concentrated and expressive, likely due to the lower yields. Sugars and acids in both reds and whites were balanced, with lower sugars and pH’s than in 2021. Reds showcase vibrant aromatics, and with ample structure and body.”

Johnson commented on the AVA in general, adding, “We always have some frost, and heat spikes are typical – We just learn to adapt. In my opinion, the 2022 harvest was much, much better than last year considering its challenges!”

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