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It’s mid-August, and Testarossa Winery is getting ready to kick off its annual ritual of stickiness, frenzy and weeks of sleeplessness that come when the grapes start rolling in to the iconic winery at the top of College Avenue.

“Our first harvest here was 1997, so that makes this our 25th,” said proprietor Rob Jensen, adding that he’s often asked when he’s going to retire, and the answer is always, “I already did! In 2001.” That’s when he left his day job in high tech to take the plunge into wine.

Winemaker Bill Brosseau is gearing up for his 22nd harvest with Testarossa: He started with the winery in 2000. As is typical, chardonnay grapes from his family’s vineyard in Chalone will be the first ones to cross the transom at the Old Novitiate building, where grapes have been crushed for more than 150 years.
Jensen said he expects the pinot noir from the Brosseau Vineyard to come in about 10 days later. Brosseau, who lives in Pebble Beach, makes it a point to go visit the many vineyards they get fruit from every Friday as harvest approaches.

“He’s amazing ,” Jensen said. “He evaluates all the fruit for flavors and then does the analysis to see what the chemistry says.” This year’s drought combined with inland heat has made it tough going for vines. Many growing areas are water starved, including Chalone, but this year, with two dry winters having depleted most ponds and reservoirs, there’s nothing left to give the vines a drink.

“Feels like we are dry farming even though we aren’t,” Brosseau said. “Surprisingly, our older own rooted vines aren’t as strong as our younger rootstock blocks.” The upside to this is that while quantity may be down, “quality may be at an all-time high,” the winemaker said.

Once Labor Day hits, Jensen said, the grapes will really start arriving in earnest.
“We’ll start getting fruit from the Santa Lucia Highlands – usually pinot noir – then Santa Rita Hills and Arroyo Grande.” When fires ravaged the Santa Lucia Highlands and severely impacted many vineyards, Jensen said he and his wife Diana learned a long time ago not to put all their eggs in one basket.
“We started diversifying vineyard sources in 1995.
We added vineyards from the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley in the 1990s. Last year, we were able to get some more fruit from Rosemary’s and Rincon in Arroyo Grande, which helped. After two rather large vintages in 2018 and 2019, things are evening out. We’re in a pretty good balance.” He said the 2021 overall crop looks a bit lighter, due to smaller berries and clusters. He estimates it’s down 10% to 15% from 2020 levels. Although they’d like to continue the tradition of having the annual Blessing of the Grapes, a ritual much anticipated by the winery staff, and members of the local clergy, ongoing pandemic concerns are the priority.

“Our No. 1 concern is to keep everyone safe,” Jensen says. “With the delta variant of COVID right now, we’re thinking to delay the event. Maybe we’ll do it at the end of harvest.”