Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's Time

It's 4 a.m. It’s time.

You wait all year and know it’s coming, but it always feels like it sneaks up on you. How can it be harvest already? What happened to summer? However, harvest time it is and at Cornerstone we are starting Crush 2011 right now at 4 a.m in the cold and dark of this September the 13th morning. That realization wakes you up and you start to notice a few leaves on the ground, the shorter and shorter days and a different type of coolness in the evening air. Fall is indeed arriving.

This is a very special harvest for us at Cornerstone Cellars as it is our twentieth anniversary vintage. We've come a long way in twenty years. These decade marks make you take stock of yourselves. As we look back there is one thing we know for sure; we're making the best wines we've ever made.

It’s been an unusual growing season, at least that’s the conventional wisdom. In fact, it’s a lot like last vintage, which means its been cool by recent Napa Valley standards. Is this the new “normal”? In my opinion a little cooler is not a bad thing. Cooler vintages give more balanced wines that are more transparent; wines that clearly show where they came from. Fruit bombs are not our goal.

The major problem so far with vintage 2011 in Napa is the cool, rainy weather in early June during flowering and set, which dramatically reduced the size of this year’s crop. Our Howell Mountain vineyards escaped this fate as the later flowering up on the mountain meant they missed the early June storms. Oddly our cabernet franc vineyards in St. Helena, Oakville and Carneros ended up with good fruit sets too as they also bloomed late.

So we head into mid-September around two weeks behind normal. That’s really not too bad: as long as the fall rains hold off long enough for everything to ripen. This, of course, is a very big “if”.

I often think there is an over-reaction to these slightly cooler years in Napa. Anyone who has spent time in some of the world’s most famous wine growing regions knows that Napa does not face the weather dangers those growers deal with on a regular basis. We will ripen our grapes. I truly believe that these “cooler” vintages make better wines in the Napa Valley. However, certain critics who define wine quality by girth disagree with me, preferring wines from hot vintages.

These cooler vintages excite me because of the opportunity they give us to make truly balanced, elegant wines designed to taste their best at the dinner table. The weather report forecasts mid-seventies and dry for the next week; perfect fall grape ripening weather. Just like last vintage I know we’re going to make wines that I love. I can’t wait.

It's 4 a.m. It’s time.

Cornerstone Cellars

Craig Camp

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