It’s hard to believe that 2023 is my thirteenth harvest here at MacRostie and my eleventh as winemaker. Each year brings new insights and additional experience, and even in the most challenging vintages, there is always hard-won wisdom to be gained. The 2023 growing season was an interesting and unusual one here in Sonoma County and the Russian River Valley. After several years of drought, the rains returned to wine country, saturating the soils and bringing more vitality to the vineyards. It was also one of the coolest growing seasons in several years, with a cold, wet winter significantly delaying bud break. As a result, everything started late in 2023, and it wasn’t until early July that we started to see temperatures begin to creep up above the low 80s.
Normally, we start sampling our grapes in early August as we begin to prepare for harvest—but not in 2023. In fact, most of our vineyards were just beginning to go through veraison at that point, with veraison generally meaning that it will be about 45 days until we start picking. As a result, for the first time in a long time, harvest didn’t start in August! Fortunately, August and September finally brought warm weather, and day by day the grapes methodically ripened closer to our ideal parameters. One of the most fascinating aspects of the 2023 growing season was the fact that the grapes achieved excellent flavor development with brown seeds (something we look for) at lower Brix (sugars) than normal. In stylistic terms, this means that our 2023 wines will likely be fresh, dynamic, and slightly lower in alcohol. And yet, after doing numerous early fermentations, I have also been consistently impressed by their richness and concentration, and the deep, saturated color of the Pinot Noirs.
Harvest started on September 14th, with the first pick of grapes for our sparkling wine program, followed by our first pick of still-wine Chardonnay on September 19th, and Pinot Noir on September 22nd. For the next few weeks, the fruit came in at a steady pace, and by about October 10th, it was all hands on deck in the winery as we hit the peak of harvest. As is always the case, there were a few curveballs. For instance, last year, our amazing new Nightwing Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap was one of our first vineyards picked. This year, it was one of our last. And while our last pick of Chardonnay was November 1st, we harvested our last Pinot Noir of the season from Manzana Vineyard on October 18th.
Overall, I am thrilled with the quality of the fruit and what I am seeing from the wines at this early stage. While it was a cold vintage, nothing feels underripe. In fact, the flavors in our early Chardonnays’ ferments have been uniquely vibrant and beautiful, with enticing flavors and complex aromas. While there is a lovely elegance to our Pinot Noirs with supple tannins and very little astringency, they are also generous and concentrated. Although 2023 was a vintage that tested our patience and resolve as we waited for ripeness, that patience looks like it will be rewarded with dynamic and delicious wines. We can’t wait to share them with you!
Winemaker – MacRostie Winery and Vineyards