Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vintage of the Century!

Harvesting Oakville Station Cornerstone Cellars Merlot
It's the vintage of the century!

The hype machine is on for the West Coast. Unfortunately, the noisiest wine press is no longer the one that separates the juice from the skins. Hopefully someday we can get back to the fact that in agriculture there is no perfection, only personality.

Each vintage the weather and soil combine to create a once in a lifetime experience. As with people, the personality you prefer is, well, personal. In the Napa Valley, the weather could not have been kinder to grape growers. Mother Nature’s largess to grape growers and winemakers is not always equal. There’s not an empty fermenter or barrel to be found in the Napa Valley right now due to the bumper crop of grapes bestowed on the Valley this year. More is not necessarily better when it come to winemaking. The growers are already celebrating and headed for some sunny beach. Winemakers still have plenty of work to be done in the cellars with most of the red wine harvest still in fermenters.

It was a vintage Goldilocks would have loved. Not too hot and not too cold, just right. It started with a gentle spring that allowed for textbook flowering and fruit set. Then they just started to come, one after another. Warm sunny day after warm sunny day. Rarely did we hit 100° F for the high and just as rare was the day it did it not hit at least 85° F. The nights were cool dropping down to the low fifties, even nicking the forties. Up and down the temperatures swung wide each day in that dance that makes the Napa Valley such an exceptional place to grow wine grapes. 

September arrived and harvest began. First pinot gris and then we started picking sauvignon blanc, almost on the same date we’ve picked the last two years. Then they started to fall like dominos, coming in just the order you’d expect: first the merlot and then the syrah followed by cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. The even weather allowed us to pick at a deliberate pace able to wait until the flavors arrived at just the right point. By the middle of October we’d picked almost all of our vineyards. The first real forecast of rain arrived at the same time. On Sunday, October 21st we picked our last fruit. At midnight it started to rain.

By our standards at Cornerstone Cellars we’re very, very happy and optimistic about the wine that is fermenting as I write this article. What makes us happy? Wines with freshness, life, energy and, most of all, personality. We were able to pick truly ripe fruit at moderate sugar levels, which means moderate alcohol levels with crisp acidity that will make the wines sing. I love it.

So the journalists will want to know if this was a great vintage. Of course it was, just like it will be next year and was last year. It’s not a question that anyone who has grown anything would ask. It is the experience of growing the fruit and making it into wine each and every year that makes for greatness. Letting that individuality speak in the wine every year is what makes wine so fascinating. The greatness of wine is in how it speaks to you. Each of us can rate a wine or a vintage 100 points, but we can only do that for ourselves. No one can do it for us.

There is something to love in every vintage. Every vintage is the vintage of the century, even if just for a few minutes. Andy Warhol said everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. Each vintage should at least get that.

1 comment:

Two Shepherds said...

nice post Craig, and your enthusiasm and energy is always refreshing.

I have to laugh a bit at all the comments on 'the vintage of xxx' this year.

Its been a solid year there is no doubt, for most regions.

Beyond any doubt it was a GROWERS year, with yields 2-3x previous years. Whether that translates into a vintner banner year remains to be seen. There is no doubt 2012 will be a solid year.

It was encouraging to watch you still pick at modest levels.
I will confess widespread disappointment at how many winemakers resorted back to practices of extended hang time and over ripening, pre 2010 & 2011.

I had hoped the challenge, but in many ways gifts, of the previous years may have stuck longer, but watched over & over as people picked reds at 28 brix and did huge water & acid adds, or thought Chardonnay just wasn't ripe enough mid Oct at 24-25 brix.

Behind the scenes, containers of water, sugar (yes.) etc all in wide use.

Clearly many are unable to resist the temptations of extended hang time, for extra 'flavor ripeness' unless forced by nature to do otherwise.

Bravo to you, and others like you, that take the gift of a good year and don't abuse it. Lets hope the very slow market shift continues.