‘Perfect’ season presents its own challenges

The last two years have brought challenging weather to West Coast vintners, with cooler-than-usual temperatures creating lower yields and dicey conditions for optimum grape ripeness. For those who prefer lower alcohol, 2010 and ’11 should provide plenty of lucrative options.

This year, on the other hand, the weather has been nigh onto perfect up and down the coast. Two weeks ago, picking was well underway, and Merry Edwards showed us two nearly full tanks of crushed pinot grapes.

But ideal weather can bring its own challenges. And one man’s “perfect” conditions can prove problematic for others.

Here are three Sonoma vintners’ takes on the last three vintages:

Jeff Stewart, Hartford Court: “This year is earlier from a farming standpoint and eventually from a winemaking standpoint. But we’re not sitting back. It’s gonna rain at some point. The fruit’s happy. We wanna get going. We’ve cleaned everything five times. “¦ There are all these expectations of a “˜perfect’ year, and that’s OK but I like the 2011s; it was cooler and they’re more focused and more structured. The 2010s are a little more restrained, will age better. I’ll lay down my 2010s and ’11s.”

Mike Sullivan, Benovia: “In a “˜perfect’ vintage, when everything seems too good, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop “¦ The last few years we’ve had low yields; some coastal grapes we just didn’t put in [their blends], but it was nice to see ripe flavors and good acidity. We didn’t get the explosive flavors you come to expect from the Russian River Valley. In 2010 we cut off half the zin crop “¦ [This year] your hand isn’t forced. It’s like “˜where do I want to see this?’ We want some grapes that are a little less ripe. The vegetative growth has been ideal. It’s mimicking 2002 and 1997, where you got higher quality and higher quantity. 

Mick Unti, Unti Vineyards: “2010 was our kind of year, except for the heat spike. Every year we go “˜damn it, wouldn’t it be great to have all our wines come in under 14 percent?’ In 2011 we were trying to get the grapes off the vine before they fell off. Those two years taught us that it’s OK to make wine from less than very ripe grapes. Instead of “˜Oh, that vineyard’s OK; let’s give it two more days so we get no green tannins,’ we’re more comfortable getting it a few days earlier. We know it’s not Armageddon. Now we can be a little more precise about how we manage a quintessential California vintage to make wine that is in our wheelhouse. 

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