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.
David Rosengarten’s recent article in Saveur, ‘The Evolution of Cabernet’ explores the changes in style that accompanied the spread of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Napa Valley and beyond. One word struck a chord; refinement.
That the style of wines produced in Napa has transformed over the years is clear. Those lucky enough to taste the great wines of the post prohibition years from Beaulieu and Ingelnook marveled at their balance and finesse (and those lucky enough to taste the wines now, 50-60 years on, still marvel at the same thing). Some of this elegance can be attributed to a more intuitive process of production; when the grapes tasted good you harvested, there was no triple sorting, de-stemming, multilevel toast barrel aging. Perhaps it was a more honest approach, devoid of scientific introspection and the debates and pressures of scores and global palates.
Several years ago I was at a lunch with a longtime Napa Valley winemaker who explained the trajectory of his own winery. He recounted that in the 1970’s the harvest included everything in the vineyard – green berries, sunburned berries, ALL berries – followed not by destemming and cold soak but with whole cluster fermentation followed by barrel aging. And we wonder why the wines of the 70’s seemed impenetrable until the late 90’s (some seems so even today). In the 1980’s advancements in vineyard management and research in ripeness led to some dramatic changes in the vineyard with green harvesting becoming the norm and destemming a part of the production process. The wines, though still structured, were rounded out along the edges, more supple and approachable. Phyloxera in the late 80’s provided the opportunity to look closely at the clones and rootstocks in the vineyard. Like many in the valley, he chose some of the new clones coming out of UC Davis, with a focus on ripe fruit character, smaller berries and intense fruit. The regimen of new wood used in the production was increased and the wines became fleshy and ripe, fruit driven in style.
All of this was presented as a logical process of evolution and at the time, many wine producers in Napa Valley could not see beyond the “valley palate” where this move towards ripeness was intricately tied to trying to create the types of wines that critics were writing about and recommending. The early wines of Bryant Family, Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate came to exemplify this style and their tremendous success ushered in a decade of copycat wines that searched out a formula to replicate the style. This is not solely a Napa reality – a tasting of recent Bordeaux
What was lost in the process, at least in my opinion is the elegance, the balance, the refinement.
As Rosengarten notes, these wines of refinement still exist. Meteor Vineyard, Corison, Dyer, VonStrasser. I anticipate seeing more wines produced in the style in the very near future (and NOT just due to the cooler weather in 2010).