Winemaker, Viticulturist, Wine Educator and AVA Consultant Wes Hagen takes position of Consulting Winemaker and Brand Ambassador for J.Wilkes Wines in Santa Maria Valley, CA.
Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County, California - Wes Hagen, winemaker and vineyard manager at the famous Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines in Lompoc for 21 years, has left his family’s vineyards in the hands of Hall/Walt Wines of St. Helena to become the full time Consulting Winemaker and Brand Ambassador for J. Wilkes Wines in Santa Maria.
“It’s been a big transition leaving the Santa Rita Hills after dedicating my life to the establishment and promotion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA and Clos Pepe,” Hagen said recently. “It was a Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir that first showed me how delicious wine could be as a young man, my seminal wine experience, and now I have a chance to be part of the area I consider the ‘heart and soul’ of Santa Barbara County Wine Country.”
Hagen continues, “J.Wilkes is an AVA-based brand. We don’t make vineyard designates, but we source from the best vineyards in the Central Coast to make wines of place at an amazing value. Of the five AVA’s in Santa Barbara County, I’ve researched and written the petitions that have established three of them, and I believe that makes me uniquely qualified to educate and promote these regions through the delicious wines we make at J. Wilkes.”
Special Wine Industry Insider’s Commentary:
A Winemaker’s View on 2015 Vintage, Drought and Why This is the Greatest Moment in the History of Mankind to Stock Up on Wine
by: Wes Hagen, Consulting Winemaker and Brand Ambassador, J. Wilkes Wines, Santa Maria CA.
“Vintage 2015 is the earliest harvest in modern winemaking in California. I’ve spoken with winemakers with fifty vintages under their belt and they cannot remember an earlier harvest. Is it an aberration or a sign of things to come? I’m a believer in letting history become, not embarrassing myself with prognostication.
I am learning new vineyards in the beautiful Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County after 21 years farming in the Santa Rita Hills. The last three months I have been watching and tasting the fruit throughout the Santa Maria Valley AVA and I’ve learned a lot about the vintage and the flavors of Santa Maria Valley. It would be easy for a pundit to see the early harvest timing and assume there might be a lack of color, flavor development and balance in the 2015 vintage, but as a pro with decades of experience deciding when to pull the trigger on vineyard blocks, I can honestly say that I expect greatness out of the 2015 vintage.
We had an inverted winter in Santa Maria this year. January was warmer than February, February than March, and so on. Budbreak was early and our degree day accumulation between March and August was about the same as we usually get March to mid-late September. We were 2-3 weeks early last year, which we thought was an anomaly, but then we were 4-6 weeks early this year. Pinot and Syrah were coming into the winery at the same time, but from different regions. This is very unusual. But this is WEATHER, not climate. It would be irresponsible to start ringing the bells of climate doom over two subsequent vintages. Again, history should write itself.
Here’s a take home message. Stock the cellar right now, because wine prices will be going up after a short 2015 harvest. Tiny clusters, tiny berries, expect big intensity and color. 2014 was a fine vintage, and I think you can argue (generalizations are dangerous this early, but they are good ink) that 13 will be deeper than 12, 14 will be bigger than 13, and 2015 will likely be an intense, perfumed, complex vintage especially for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay all around California, and likely the entire West Coast.
Last comment on the drought. We have finally seen the negative impact of many years of CA drought on tired grapevines in this harvest. To be honest, I expected to see far smaller yields in 2013 and 2014. Why? Doesn’t irrigation replace rain, at least as long as the groundwater lasts? Irrigation from groundwater adds salts to the soil profile and starts forming saline deposits around the roots and root hairs of grapevines. Salt seriously inhibits a vine’s ability to uptake water and nutrients, and we have seen some foliar symptoms and lower yields that are clearly indicative of saline deposit-based vine stress throughout California. The solution? Nature, of course.
Bottom line: if we get the ‘Godzilla El Nino’ that NOAA is suggesting, we should be able to charge the soil profile (we need 20”+ spread out through the winter months for any amount of significant relief, and 30”+ would even be better) and wash much of the saline deposits from the vine roots. Nature would refresh itself and we would all breathe a very loud sigh of relief. Even in a drought, grapevines only ‘borrow’ water to move nutrients through their tissue, create carbon via photosynthesis and then give 95% of the water they use back to the atmosphere through their stomatal cells. So even with a significant irrigation contribution, the amount of water actually consumed by a grapevine is hardly more than what fills the same wine bottle. Save water, drink more wine!
Without significant winter rainfall throughout California this winter, expect wells to start running dry and wine prices to skyrocket. I suggest hedging your wine investment by putting at least a few cases of wine in a cool place NOW while prices are as low as they have ever been. It’s good for your table, conducive to great conversations and less time immersed in technology, and (admittedly) good for the industry I love.”