3 things come to the forefront in a vintage like 2010 – experience, patience and perseverence. In a meeting with Mike Wolf yesterday he displayed and comforted with all 3.
Anyone who has spent any time in nature understands that the logic of the natural world, while identifiable on a molecular level, is unstable and downright confusing on the macro level. How many times have you scratched your head in wonder while weather.com or your local weather person proclaims a likely rainless day as the showers pour down? While Mike can’t predict the rain (though he can exhaustively gather and analyze data on pressure systems, moisture levels, etc.) his experience and patience were tantamount to where we are now in the vintage cycle.
A quick recap of phenology;
March 19 Budbreak
June 3 50% Bloom
August 16 50% Verasion
Anticipated harvest? Second week of October?
What a difference a week makes.
While many continue to bemoan the lack of heat, the conversation among vineyard managers is increasingly shifting to pure sunlight hours – after all, it is the sun that produces photosynthesis! The morning fog has been clearing earlier by the day, with mid-afternoon temperatures in the low 80’s and plenty of sunshine. The result was increased pace of verasion and, most importantly for Mike Wolf and his team, clear deliniation between the grapes that will continue hanging on the vine and those that are severed to wilt in the afternoon sun. If it’s green, cut it off…
Nathan Halverson’s article in the Press Democrat on Tuesday gave voice to a concern and conversation raging around Northern California. Cool temperatures and late rains into the spring already delayed bud break in many vineyards and the continued moderate mid day highs are doing little to help the vines catch up. For delicate skinned grapes like Pinot Noir, there is the grave fear of mold if the grape are still hanging when the fall rains begin. The same is true of Chardonnay where even a few spores of botrytis can multiply beyond control, in some cases inside the cluster where it is not even readily visible. These are concerns for Cabernet Sauvignon producers as well, though the thick skins make them less susceptible. The biggest concern is ripeness – bringing the tannins and fruit into balance before the suns arc lies too low on the horizon, or the incessant rains force people to get the fruit off the vines.
I noted a tweet earlier in the week of verasion in merlot at Frediani Vineyard just east of Calisotga, but Cabernet producers up and down the valley are scratching their heads and laying out plans for diligent and aggresive vineyard management.
As luck would have it, I spotted Meteor Vineyard manager Mike Wolf strolling around block 3 this morning – a perfect opportunity to get his thoughts. His decade long history of vineyard management in Napa Valley entails myriad scenarios, and he is quick to point out that every season has its peculiarities and unique circumstances.
“I have heard several people already compare 2010 to 1998, which was one of the most maligned and misunderstood vintages of the last 20 years.” Indeed, in retrospect, many of the wines from the 1998 vintage are fascinating expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon with vibrant acids and tannins allowing for graceful aging.
Perhaps his most telling comment was one of process.
“We may have to get a little Draconian.”
And here lies the essence. It is vintages like 1998 that separate out the great producers from the middling. Tough decisions are made and implemented. Anyone can make a great wine in a vintage like 2007 (I was going to say 97 but then thought of all of the pruny and overripe wines where there really was need of intervention) – who will stand out in a vintage like 2010?
The vineyard team is making its first green harvest pass now, and I expect to see several more as the months wear on…
It’s that time and the grapes have been coming in almost every night. Yesterday our very special plot of Clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon was picked. These “artisans of the field” have tended to every vine during the season. Trimmed, dropped fruit, made the tough decisions over which clusters would stay on the vine during growing season to concentrate flavors in a purposefully selected yield of fruit. Most of these folks have been tending to our vineyard since it was planted a decade ago.
When the time to pick comes, it is done with grace and speed, not to get a tedious job done, but to get from vine to crush as soon as is possible.
No musical accompaniment to this little video clip would do it justice.
Yesterday the last of our Cabernet was picked. A long leisurely harvest season this year punctuated with a short monsoon this week. No harm as little of the fruit was left and they rode out the storm perfectly. Last night we were presented with this picturesque sunset highlighting the launch of the vines transition to Autumn.
I’ve grown used to the bittersweet feeling of staring at the post-harvest vineyard freshly bare of fruit. It’s like sending your child off to kindergarten. One era ends and a new one begins brimming with potential. And so, with all of the Meteor Vineyard fruit safely picked and crushed, the 2009 Vintage journey begins.
Harvest always forces winemakers (and wine lovers) into a game of comparisons. The singular character of a vintage is dependent on an incalculable array of variables; from sunlight hours to rainfall, from the gradations of temperature to the frequency and intensity of wind, from the decisions to green harvest to the agonizing judgment of sending in the crew to pull the fruit from the vine.
The 2009 vintage was incredibly even until the freakish storm that swept in mid-October. But that was nothing compared to the disparate conditions of 2008. Barry refers to it as the year of Fire and Ice.
While harvest is already in swing around Napa Valley for Pinot and white grapes. We are weeks away, particularly in our temperate hilltop at Meteor Vineyard. But time to check in and get a baseline on the physical maturity, brix and a little taste of the berries.
Clusters are plentiful but looking a bit light on berries.
For those not familiar with premium Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, we grow the grape, or berries in viticulture “speak” to be small and highly concentrated in flavor.
We pay particular attention to the seeds and the “jacket” of fruit around it. a mature berry will have a brown seed and no jellied fruit clinging to it. we are weeks away right now as you can see.
And finally a quick take on sugar content or brix. Here is where my handy pocket refractometer is great for a quick read, although our various winemakers and viticulturists will do it the more traditional way. 22.1 ripe for Bordeaux and waiting 10 years to drink, but not even close for Napa’s finest.
I’m not pulling the trigger just yet, but really liked what I saw this morning- especially blk 1, clone 7. Berries softening, even some dimpling, good tannin resolution in skins, color extracting easily, great fruit and brn seeds. The dimpling seems to be comparatively free of raisin characters. blk1, clone 4 still has some hard, green tannin in the skins- not uncharacteristically, and 337 is somewhere in between. Only see positive in waiting thru this cool week and into next, but I think we could see some action by the end of next week.
Blk1, clone 7- 24.7 B, 3.74
Blk 1, clone 4- 23.4 B, 3.58 pH
Blk 3, clone 337- 24.0 B, 3.64 pH