Skip to main content

The 2022 Vintage at Clarice Wine Company

THE 2022 VINTAGE (aka Quite a Story)

The 2022 vintage is my 29th vintage of making Pinot Noir and my 26th vintage working in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Occasionally, I fool myself and begin to think that I’ve seen it all. The 2022 vintage quickly abolished that notion and brought me back to reality. There were two truly unique aspects to 2022:

  • The drought finally began to show itself in the wines.
  • An unprecedentedly hot and long heat spike hit the vineyards around Labor Day.

Combine these factors with what was a very small yield to begin with and you had the makings for a problematic vintage. To combat these factors, I took several extreme steps to produce the 2022 Clarice Pinot Noirs and believe that the results are the most concentrated and lowest alcohol Pinot Noirs I’ve yet produced.

The lower yields in 2022 were not a huge surprise and far from unprecedented. The 2021 vintage was fairly prolific and having a smaller crop follow a larger one is pretty common. However, one of the things that happens with a smaller crop is that the effects of extreme conditions are magnified as they are spread out over a smaller amount of fruit.

The hot weather around Labor Day is no surprise. It’s become something of a joke/old wive’s tale among growers that Labor Day brings extreme heat or a threat of rain. August had already been warm with temperatures well into the 90s around August 16 and 22, but the start of September was something else. September 1-8 was all above 90 degrees with 4, 5, 6, and 8 all being above 100 degrees (in some parts of Monterey, and all of Napa and Sonoma temperatures reached into the 110s with one Healdsburg station recording a 120 mark). Most unusual was the brief drop in temperatures on the 7th making the vines think they were past it and then the temperatures rose again.

To combat this, I asked Gary and Mark to irrigate my vines. For irrigation to be effective against extreme heat it must be applied 48 hours before the onslaught of heat. This requires a good bit of faith in your local weatherman (not the most accurate profession). On August 30, I went all in. I asked Gary and Mark not just to irrigate in a normal way (6 hours of water or so is usually the max), but to apply a Noah-like flood to the vines. What followed was an 18-hour period of irrigation. That’s more water than the vines had gotten the previous winter. Then, on August 4, we applied another 8 hours of water. The result was that I was able to extend the hangtimes into mid to later September (Garys’ first and then Rosella’s) and allow the fruit to reach a point of equilibrium.

While this water worked to keep berries intact and sugars in check, it didn’t help with acidity, nor did it help with another issue – the lack of key nutrients in the must. The decade long drought had been a factor in vine health for a number of years, but really hadn’t shown itself in the must and ferments until 2022. In 2022 fermentations often became stinky and sluggish. Even when the overall YAN numbers (Yeast Assimilable Nitrogen) were good, this happened, and it happened throughout California. Which micronutrient(s) was responsible for this, I am not certain – but we saw it in our earliest clients’ wines in the Russian River Valley (which were picked in mid-August) – and we were prepared for it with the Clarice wines. With previous vintages of Clarice, I took pride in saying that the only addition to the wines was sulfur – but that wasn’t the case in 2022. I added both yeast nutrients to the must and a modest amount of acidity.

I also made a rather risky choice to increase the percentage of whole clusters in the fermentation (to around 80 percent). Conventional wisdom says that the warmer the year the faster you get sugars and the less time the grapes have to achieve stem ripeness. It occurred to me that for these wines to have appropriate structure, it would either be from a very large acid addition (which often stands out) or from tannins, which come in part from stems and also from the skins. This decision definitely caused me some sleepless nights as for the first few days of maceration the juice looked like a weak rosé wine. On top of this high percentage of whole clusters, I also chose to bleed off almost 20 of the juice in hope of getting some tannic backbone from the skins and mitigating any water additions from the vineyard.

Here then, is what I ended up with in 2022:

  • The most concentrated Clarice Pinot Noirs yet. This comes from the lower yields and the bleed off done during the cold soak.
  • The lowest alcohol Clarice Pinot Noirs yet. This comes from the irrigation done in the vineyard. This isn’t a make-or-break thing for me by any means, but usually lower alcohol means less concentration, but not in this case.
  • Wines that achieve their balance from tannins originating in skins and stems rather than the higher levels of acidity often found in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
  • The smallest production Clarice Pinot Noirs to date (sadly).

Getting the 2022 Clarice Pinot Noirs to this point wasn’t easy. It required me to do things I’d never considered doing before, but in the end, I am ecstatic with how the wines turned out. I hope that you enjoy them.


Adam Lee

Sign Up
for Updates