Three things come to the forefront in a vintage like 2010 – experience, patience and the incredible importance of that elusive term terroir.
The classic “indian summer” conditions swept in the first weeks of October to provide PERFECT conditions to finish up the growing season. Mike Wolf crew swept into the vineyard at 230am on October 14 and started to harvest.
The cool temperatures in the early months of the growing season were a major topic of conversation. You couldn’t walk past winemaker or vineyard manager without stopping for a few minutes of careful consideration about when, exactly, we had seen an early season so cool (1999 seemed to pop up often as a reference). Bloggers and critics immediately went to work denigrating the vintage as a whole, rarely recognizing that months of potential summer heat lay ahead.
At Meteor Vineyard we had bud break on March 19 and had 50% bloom by June 3. Not unusual, particularly as we are a slightly more temperate climate than other areas of the valley. Post bloom the cool conditions continued. This was really true throughout the state of California – even Los Angeles experienced one of the coolest summers on record! Verasion began in early August in pockets of the vineyard but progressed slowly, with only 50% complete in the middle of the month.
I started spotting Mike Wolf’s truck in the vineyard several times a day and would catch glimpses of him scratching his head as he strolled the rows. Elsewhere in the valley, rumors of extreme green harvesting began circulating. Vineyard managers narrowed their range of options to two; extreme harvesting, often to one cluster per shoot – and pulling the leaves from around the clusters to ensure maximum sun exposure, or diligent and considered green harvesting which recognized that many more degree days lay ahead.
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 pushing us into September with healthy fruit, perfect clusters and room for introspection.
As should have been predicted, the thermometer crept up into triple digits several times over the week in September and into October. Those who pulled leaves were left with substantial sunburn (I have heard rumors of upwards of 50% of peoples crop destroyed by sun). We largely missed all of the damaging effects from these high degree days and the temperate nature of Coombsville and the unique situation of Meteor Vineyard once again proved fortuitous. There will be tremendous variation in the 2010 Cabernet based wines from Napa Valley. What to look for? Sites tempered by elevation or breeze, winemakers and vineyard managers with experience, and owners dedicated to producing only the best in every vintage, particularly the challenging ones.
A quick recap of phenology;
March 19 Budbreak
June 3 50% Bloom
August 16 50% Verasion
Anticipated harvest? Second week of October?
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…
Despite early forecasts for rain into the weekend, Sunday arrived with perfect fall conditions.
Thomas MacNaughton, of San Francisco’s Flour and Water, prepared a melange of delicious food including Flour and Water’s incredible house cured salumi, roasted pumpkin soup with smoked duck and pistachio, roasted beet and persimmon salad with curly cress and roasted squash and pancetta salad with pheasant and wild arugula.
The wood fired pizza oven was burning, and Barry and Tom had a friendly battle over pizza crusts (Barry’s starter is developed with wild yeasts from the vineyard).
The food was delicious, and the wines (of course) were spectacular. Dawnine pulled barrel samples of the 2007 (yes, it is everything it is touted to be), both of the 2006 wines that were released several weeks ago were flowing, and a few of the final bottles from 2005 were pulled from the cellar to demonstrate the evolution of the vineyard. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.
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.
2009 Harvest Summary
The 2009 harvest ended on Saturday October 17 as we scurried to bring in the last block of Cab before rain hit again on Monday. What had been a near perfect growing season turned ugly when over 3 inches of rain fell in one day- not in itself a bad thing, but what followed was several days with humidity over 70%- perfect conditions for botrytis and mold.
At Meteor we had 3/4 of the fruit in before this weather event and made the decision to leave the last block, clone 4 in the vineyard for that last little ripening that turns beast to beauty. Clone 4 always benefits from a little extra “hang time” to smooth it’s rather aggressive tannins and under normal circumstances, a little rain is a non issue.
The balance of the vineyard was picked on Oct 10, a full week earlier, when rain threatened to bring our leisurely late summer to an abrupt close. We started to see complete evolution of flavor and ripe tannin around Oct 5th, but with gently temperatures and little sugar accumulation felt no sense of urgency and squeezed every last bit of flavor from the season. And with rain predicted for the 12th, we pulled the trigger on the clone 7 and 337. Picked at night, the cool fruit was delivered to the waiting destemmer in pristine conditions.
Our partially tamed beast (clone 4) weathered the storm well, but we chose not to tempt fate by leaving it thru a 2nd storm and brought it in. All the blocks are fermenting separately and bring unique elements to the blending… this year we have a tremendous palate to work with.
The final Meteor harvest news is the addition of just under a ton of Petit Verdot. 0.5 acres was eked out of the property and planted in 2004*. Until now the young vineyard has been, well, a young vineyard with all it’s unruly characteristics. This year the Meteor team made the decision to bring it into our fold and it looks beautiful. At this time we’re not sure exactly how we’re going to use it, but in thinking about our 2 wines, it’s potential to be the perfect spice is compelling.
Overall season characteristics at Meteor
1. even bloom
2. long, slow season
3. high pHs (universal in Napa this year)
4. majority picked before the major weather event
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.
Just checked the vineyard after three cloudy days with some fairly significant rain on Sunday.
Less than 24 hrs later, a gentle breeze is drying off the clusters and we’re back on track for ripening. We’re not used to summer rains in Napa and tend to freak out a little, but mostly it just washes the dust off and makes the air smell nice. Even so, we’ll be a little more vigilant about botrytis, but for now things look great.