Harvest Report

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Harvest Report

“2018 was the worst year ever”, according to Eduardo Córdoba Kruger, Director and Enologist at Vinos Kruger. I could tell he was on the move throughout our entire conversation over a shaky WhatsApp connection. In addition to owning Vinos Kruger, he manages a number of vineyards in Baja and consults with other small wineries. Everyone suffered last year.

 Kruger has worked in vineyards and wineries on three continents. After graduating from Universidad Autónoma de Chapingo, one of the top three universities for agronomy in the Western Hemisphere, he interned at Concha y Toro in Chile for four months. Then he was off to Tarragona in Penedès, Spain to earn a Masters in Winemaking and found work at Torres. The Torres family became good friends for whom Eduardo is deeply grateful.

After returning home to Baja in December 2010, he started at Casa de Piedra in 2011. Early that year, Kruger and some friends borrowed a parking lot from another friend, bought some equipment, and started making their own label. In 2014, he purchased half an acre one mile north of San Antonio de las Minas in the Valle de Guadalupe and built his own winery there. Two years later, he left Casa De Piedra to consult and run his own winery full time. Kruger works with a number of small family wineries and manages vineyards in exchange for grapes.

There are several key vineyards among those Kruger tends. Ojos Negros is the most important as he gets 60% of his grapes for his winery here. Located over fifty miles inland, it is both the coldest and the hottest of them all. Ojos Negros is blessed with almost purified water, quite uncommon in Baja. San Antonio de las Minas is near his winery in the Valle de Guadalupe, and the vines there are 40 to 50 years old and yield only three to four tons per hectare. San Vicente sits at sea level just south of Ensenada.  “Chardonnay is kinky in the vineyard,” he confided, but it seems to like it here. San Vicente reaches temperatures as high as the other vineyards, which can be as hot as 116* but cools down into the 50s at night much more reliably. There is also good water here.

If you have tasted Baja wines and thought they seemed salty, this happens for a reason. The biggest challenge in Baja is drought. What water they have is salty to the tune of sometimes 800 parts per million. This translates to 8 grams of salt per liter of water. For perspective, regular seawater has 3500 parts per million; tap water has 100 parts per million. I asked Eduardo what he does with this kind of salty water. “Pray,” he said. They can also add Sulphur and copper.

Drier than normal conditions aggravated the 2018 vintage. Only two inches of rain fell all year. Winter cold never came to allow the vines to go dormant. Then there was a cold snap in March that disrupted flowering. June and July brought Santana’s Wind, which amplifies temperatures that frequently reach 110°. The vines went into the summer weakened by dehydration and lack of sleep and continued to get beat down by the heat. Yields were down across the board, but white grapes fared the worst. Kruger lost 60% of his whites. One of his clients had a contract for 120 tons, and the vines delivered 8. The San Vicente vineyard lost 80% of its white grapes. Ojos Negros survived the best, mostly because of the excellent water supply. With the vines being 10-12 years old, the roots run deeper and handle stress better. 

Kruger’s farming approach aligns with the French concept of lutte raisonnee, “the reasoned struggle.” He tends the vines by hand and with a tractor, doing as much preventative work as possible. Chemicals are used sparingly only when absolutely necessary.

The good news is that the grapes that survived the season and made it into the winery will be fine. Phenolics and sugar levels advanced rapidly, so harvest happened pretty quickly, but the concentration of color and tannins were good. Winery staff includes Kruger and his mom, with his wife filling in when not at home with their baby. They hire five or six additional people to help out at bottling. Mom, Head of Quality Control, runs a tight ship and insists on a strict cleaning regimen mostly accomplished with hot water. 

Kruger calls his style “Netflix wines” with the goal of producing fresh, fruit-forward wines. They do not require a steak but can be enjoyed alone. Vinos Kruger’s cellar practices focus on long, slow, cold fermentations in stainless steel and concrete to preserve aromatics. He works with French, Hungarian, American, and Slovenian oak barrels in a range of sizes. The Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon blend rests for a year, Merlot for nine months, Grenache and Chardonnay for three months, with the Grenache getting the oldest barrels. The exception is the one 500 liter barrel of Nebbiolo made for Mom that spent three years in barrel and two years in bottle.

No matter what happens during the rest of 2019, we are already off to a more auspicious start. The winter was cold with sixteen inches of rain. Flowering was steady with no other issues so far. Kruger pruned a little differently this year and is irrigating a bit more to prepare the vines for another heatwave. The vines have rebounded and look much healthier now than this time last year.

No one ever believed that it would be easy establishing an emerging wine region. Please support and encourage families like Eduardo Córdoba Kruger’s by coming along for the ride.

Kennedy, Jennifer. “Salinity: Definition and Importance to Marine Life.” ThoughtCo, May. 25, 2019, thoughtco.com/salinity-definition-2291679.