An early harvest, that lasted a month and a half, is finally complete for Willcox-based winery Carlson Creek Vineyard. The third largest vineyard in the state, the family-owned vines produced varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Riesling, Sangiovese and Syrah.

Though the vineyard has been harvesting its own grapes since 2011, this year’s harvest was full of surprises. Not only were grapes ready to harvest weeks ahead of schedule, but yields were down for most varietals while quality (as measured by Brix and pH) were at very high levels; something seen throughout vineyards across the Willcox AVA (American Viticulture Area), a recent designation the area received from the federal government recognizing it as an official wine growing region.

“In a normal year, we begin harvest in mid-late August and it’s our Riesling that’s first to harvest. But this year Chardonnay was the first pick, followed by Syrah which jumped ahead of the remaining white grapes,” said co-owner and winemaker John Carlson. “There was a struggle for both harvest crews and tank space as both reds and whites were ready for picking.”

The Carlson’s harvest, and its success, relies on a combination of science (measuring the sugar or Brix and pH analysis), taste (checking the grapes first-hand) and luck (aka Mother Nature). This year, they only had to delay two of their scheduled picks due to excessive water in the vineyard following monsoon rains.

The vineyard’s Mourvèdre and Grenache were good producers, as was the Sangiovese, but the Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling produced under their historic average of three tons, weighing in closer to two tons per acre in some blocks.

While the yields were down across the board, the 2016 harvest produced some of the highest quality fruit the vineyard has seen. Not only was this a welcome sign to the Carlson’s but also to the 10 other wineries throughout the state who purchased their grapes.

“This is the most we’ve ever sold in one year, and we already have requests for next year’s harvest,” said Co-Owner and winemaker Robert Carlson III. “Due to the efforts we’re putting forth to renovate our new space in Willcox and prepare for a 2017 opening, we wanted to reduce the amount of wine we produced for ourselves this vintage to focus on that area of development.”

With harvest complete, the 160-acre vineyard is now being cleaned up and the watering cycle slowed down so the vines will “harden up” for their winter nap. During this time, work will still not be done at Carlson Creek Vineyard as the family installs new trellises and adds wire to existing block to open the canopy for the more aggressive producing varietals.

“It is said that ‘you make wine in the vineyard’ and we can already tell that this year’s harvest will be creating some excellent wines for the 2016 vintage,” said Carlson.