Each vintage has its own peculiarities, but 2016 has been one of the most difficult to get off the ground. We will probably remember it as a hard and cold period, where the key to success was choosing correctly the harvest times and reacting to the particular phytosanitary conditions in the vineyards.
Throughout Chile, the high humidity caused by the outcomes of an intense El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean (a climatic event also known as El Niño–Southern Oscillation - ENSO) affected much of the grapes’ ripening period. This event, caused by the warming of the oceans produced an increase in precipitations, which affected the mainland and generated ideal conditions for developing fungal diseases. In our particular case, and due to our nearness to the coast, these conditions increased their proliferation.
According to our measured values, the 2015 – 2016 agricultural season (May to June) has been the rainiest in the last 5 years (see table 1). But due to a good viticultural work, the property achieved good results, both in quantity and quality, which allowed us to harvest 1,43 MM kilos of high-quality grapes intended for our own wines as well as for more than 12 clients who use our grapes for their high-end wines from the DO Leyda Valley.
Generally speaking, Garcés Silva Family Vineyards considers their wines of the 2016 harvest to show the distinctive characteristics of a cold year. However, summer began with high temperatures and good levels of sunlight; December and January were clear in terms of cloudiness, and at that point, regarding the heat summation, the season was 2 weeks in advance. In line with the hot weather, the phenological stage of veraison began slightly earlier than last season, but little by little, the ripening pace began to lose strength towards mid February. By then, the weather gave way to weeks of cloudiness, fog and cold temperatures, which slowed down the last ripening steps. Harvest started on February 25 with the first plots planted on the hill located behind our winery and which is the warmest area in the vineyard. We finished picking the last Syrah on April 19, completing 7 intense weeks during which 63 grape units were harvested.
This year, across all varieties, the wines have lower alcohol degrees, higher acidity levels and lesser pH than usual. Nonetheless, the wines have a complete phenolic and aromatic ripeness and show a great expression of their sense of place as well as good balance on the palate. All of this makes us think that this is a good vintage, with wines that will evolve well in time, maintaining their freshness in the years to come.
Spring (September / October / November)
During spring, temperatures were very close to the historic averages of the last 5 seasons, and we had no frosts, which favored a good budbreak. In line with the year’s trend, the months of September and October had much more rainfall than the historic average (of the last 10 years). During these 3 months we had almost 3 times more rain, amounting to 128,3 mm. This increased the water supply in the soil, delaying the first irrigation to later than usual.
Thanks to good temperatures (not very cold), and despite the rain, all varieties showed a very good fruit setting, especially Chardonnay. An initial fruit counting showed an increase of about 20% compared with the average yields.
Summer (December / January / February )
The summer of the 2016 harvest can be divided into two stages: the first one, from December to late January, was very warm, with many clear days. This resulted in the highest heat summation of the past 5 years for January, with 245,5º C GDD (growing degree days) (see table 15). By then, we could foresee a vine development progress of about 2 to 3 weeks compared to normal.
Then came the second stage (February to March), which showed a drastic change in the temperature and humidity conditions. Cloudy days prevailed, with much fog in the mornings and afternoons. Due to these circumstances, ripeness went back to normal and even progressed gradually to a slow accumulation of sugar, allowing the acidity to remain very high during the first sample gatherings. If February had not been such a fresh and cloudy month, we might probably have seen one of the warmest harvests since 2012 (see table 2).
Autumn / Harvest (March / April / May )
Harvest started on February 25. Heat summation was slightly higher than in 2015, which we have described as a warm year for Leyda. We therefore wanted to be precautious and started harvesting the first Pinot Noir plots planted on the hill, seeking to obtain wines with good freshness and balance.
The beginning of this harvest was a big challenge for us, since for the first time we used machines for the reception of the grapes, and this also implied some modifications in our processes. We wanted to be more efficient in crushing our various lots of fruit and have thus incorporated more mechanization in the harvest as well as in the vinification processes, especially for our Boya range.
It is important to point out that in the last few years we have been speeding up our harvest times, always aiming to achieve the best results,. This 2016, a historic rain, which fell from April 14 to 17, produced 143 mm of precipitation in the Leyda Valley. This is 10 times more than the average of the last 10 years for this month! This condition affected almost all of Chile’s Central Region, especially the red-wine producing area. By then, we only had 5% of the grapes left to be harvested, so their quality was not affected and they ware picked immediately after the rain.
In all, harvest comprised 63 different grape lots, which totalized about 368.000 kilos. As part of our strategic plan to encourage mechanization in some units, we were able to harvest about 30% of the grapes mechanically, obtaining likewise great results. The new infrastructure for the fruit reception was of great help and had a clear influence on this.
By the end of harvest we recorded a total of 1.179 GDD (see table 14), which, in absolute terms, is a very similar summation to the average of the past 5 seasons (1.178 GDD). The big difference that one can appreciate within each vintage is related to the intensity and timing of summer when the biggest heat summation occurs. In this case (2016) it was in January, when veraison speeded up and accelerated the metabolism of the grape’s phenolic and aromatic compounds. With the arrival of the cold weather, the harvest windows widened, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly without losing acidity, something that might happen if March and April turn out to be intensely warm.
Harvest ended on April 19, in line with the times we had in 2015. This confirms our region’s tendency of having shorter and more concentrated harvests, especially in our property.