Fall in the wine country is always serene. The grapes are in the winery, the leaves are slowly changing color and the sunlight feels more refracted and diffuse. The manic nature of harvest feels long ago, and the vines move incrementally toward a period of winter slumber. I was taking a quick respite this afternoon while talking to a buyer in Las Vegas and had to stop and marvel at the pristine natural beauty.
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.
As we prepare for the 2009 harvest, a flashback to 2006…
Each year, as harvest approaches, we winemakers find ourselves looking for comparisons with previous growing seasons. No two are ever exactly alike- that’s part of the compelling nature of winemaking (and wine drinking!), but over the past 30 years I’ve come to expect to find some resonance or a pattern of behavior, or lessons learned from a particularly treacherous season. So, as the unfinished story of the 2009 at Meteor unfolds and we wait for the nextl installment, I look back at the finished story of the soon to be released 2006 vintage.
2006 was cool and wet through April; May was variable with cool temperatures in the second half of the month delaying the finish of bloom and setting up a situation for variable ripeness. Several heat spikes in June and one protracted heat wave in July took their toll on the vines and left us thinking about a premature harvest, but August and September returned to below average temperatures and a protracted waiting began. A little rain in October, followed by a final, blessed week with temperatures over 80, brought us to a successful harvest on Oct 28. Not a year for the faint of heart! At every twist and turn, we anticipated alternate outcomes… then the unexpected happened! I really can’t find the vintage to compare to 2006, but am glad to have lived and learned from it. Already, the press has written about the vintage… and I would agree with challenging and maybe even variable, but challenging vintages in the hands of skilled viticulturists and winemakers can be astonishing successes ( my favorite quote of the year- “2006 was not a year when the wines made themselves!”). Mike kept the vineyard going thru the heat and made repeated passes thru the vineyard during the growing season. His diligence in the vineyard reduced the challenges in the winery, but there again, sorting was the name of the game and the grapes that made it to the fermenter were in pristine condition. Blending is the second half of the story.
2006 was a year where intimate knowledge of the vineyard (and Mike, who planted the vineyard knows it better than anyone), access to a sorting table and selective blending all paid off and we are really excited that with our second release, we are offering even more intensity of character and depth of flavor than the acclaimed 2005 vintage. 2007 and 2008 confirm that this level of quality is indeed sustainable from Meteor Vineyard… and 2009? So far so good!
History – A Quick Synopsis
The release of our inaugural vintage in the fall of 2008 marked the culmination of decades of dreams and experience.
For Meteor Vineyard owner Barry Schuler, it marked the culmination of a dream hatched over 35 years ago when Barry, a student with a growing passion for wine, first visited Napa Valley. After roaming the valley and tasting, he was struck with the burning desire to someday live in Napa, grow grapes and make a wine that could take its place among the worlds greats.
Simultaneously, Bill and Dawnine Dyer were launching their careers in winemaking and the history of Napa Valley was being written daily as it emerged as a truly world class wine growing region. Their paths would include some of the most successful wineries in the valley and an exhaustive understanding of the microclimates and potential of Cabernet Sauvignon from many areas of Napa Valley.
Three decades later their paths converged on a small knoll in a unique corner of Napa Valley that was immediately recognized as home to some of the most distinct fruit in the region. Meteor Vineyard was born.
Meteor Vineyard – A Rare Coming of Age
When Barry and his wife Tracy purchased the property that is now Meteor Vineyard in 1998, the comments that it was a “natural” vineyard site resounded. Noted viticulturist Mike Wolf planted the 22 acre vineyard to 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, recognizing that the quick draining soils of white volcanic ash and river stone and the temperate growing season of the Coombsville area would serve as the perfect foundation for world class Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2006 harvest was far more challenging than the 2005. An uneven bloom set during spring led to a veritable autumnal “fruit cocktail” – green berries and raisins interspersed with perfect, concentrated berries. The result? – careful sorting in the field and even more diligence on the sorting table. Thank goodness we are a boutique operation; hand sorting is intensive and exhausting work! The grapes that passed the gauntlet were as perfect as Cabernet Sauvignon gets.
The palette of clones in the vineyard offered an array of character when it came time to blend. The dark brooding fruit and chocolate tones from clone 7, the structure and intensity from Clone 4 and the bright effusive fruit of 337 resulted in a wine of precocious aromatics, penetrating depth. This, coupled with what is quickly becoming our trademark mouthfeel, show the evolution of a vineyard that is truly coming of age.
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.
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.
Prior to Meteor Vineyard gaining renown for our own label, excitement was building among winemakers and proprietors throughout the valley. In this video we speak those whose passion for the fruit is close to our own. Winemaker and viticulturalists Andy Erickson, Annie Favia, Philippe Melka, Jon Priest, Franci Ashton, Dawnine Dyer and Mike Wolf talk about the unique nature of the fruit from the vineyard; while Fritz Hatton and Robin Lail talk about what compels them about the site and what it adds to their wines.