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MONDAY MANIFESTOS
11/08/2010
Monday Manifestos
Whose Harvest Report to Believe

By Charles Olken

Let’s be clear. Winemakers are artists, or at least artisans. They are trained professionals who work for years before a chosen few of them advance to positions of leadership. They have training, they have experience, they have wisdom, and they are universally endowed with a sense of optimism for their latest vintage no matter what challenges Mother Nature has thrown at them.

I visited with several winemakers late last week and received some very revealing answers to what I call the secondary questions. You see, if you ask the primary question, “How have things turned out overall?”, you get answers like, “we did pretty well all things considered” and “we will be able to make some pretty good wines this year”. But when you start reading between the lines and seek out specifics, then you get to real truth. And, folks, the real truth is not pretty.

”How was the Zinfandel”, I asked one maker who does a good trade in that variety. “Lost some vineyards to sunburn and then lost almost all the rest to the rains”. Translation: When the vintage got so far behind, many vineyards underwent what is called “leaf thinning” in which grapes that were shaded by leaves get exposed to sun in the hope that direct exposure will push them along faster. What happened next was a heat spike that literally burned up thin-skinned varieties like Zinfandel and shut down heat-sensitive varieties like Chardonnay.

Chardonnay, at least, being an early-ripening variety got mostly picked and some of it should be pretty good. But Zinfandel, being a thin-skinned variety with tight clusters and being one of the last varieties to come in, never likes rain, and did not at all like the heavy rains we had last month. North Coast Zin production is simply going to be way down. Paso Robles Zin production has been less hard hit, and some of the most optimistic, and believable, reports are coming from down that way.

In fact, if there has been one continuing drumbeat of optimism, it has been for the grapes grown south of San Francisco where conditions were closer to normal. Or at least, that is theory. But, one producer, in answering the question, “how much did you crush this year?”, admitted that his tonnage was down 40% because he refused to take some grapes coming from as far south as Santa Barbara County. No point in picking “grapes that have sugared up but are mushy in condition and have no flavor”.

Winemakers are pros. They are going to make some good wines in 2010. California is not a monolithic place with uniform conditions, uniform crop loads, exposures, winery expectations. Some of the early ripening varieties will have done just fine. Other batches that take a little longer to mature may not have. Wines that were said to have come in with higher acidities and lower pHs than normal have turned out to be remarkably average even in those technical measures.

And, when one reads today’s’ blog over at Steve Heimoff.com and hears a couple of winemakers trying to make the case for thin, herbal Cabernet Sauvignon, then you get the idea that optimism may be expected but reality is beginning to bite.

The harvest this year has been challenged. Very few folks would deny that. Thin, herbal Cabernet is being compared to Bordeaux, and one can understand how optimists would want to think that way. But, the proof is going to be in the tasting, and we are still some time away from that. In the meantime, let’s all remember that wine is not measured by words and that early assessments of vintages have been wrong too many times, on both the positive and the negative. Keep your fingers crossed, folks, this is going to be a rough ride.

Comments

Lodi Fared Well in 2010
by Jon Bjork
Posted on:11/8/2010 10:22:50 PM

I realize most of the focus on wine blogs and the press has been on Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast, but I'll wave a small flag from Lodi to mention without secondary qualification that the 2010 vintage will be our best in decades.

Accustomed to warm growing conditions, we pulled leaves when everyone else did, and, in anticipation of a cool finish to the season, many dropped as much as 10% of the crop. Looking back, we never hit the summertime highs we normally hit.

In fact, I monitored temperatures in Napa along with ours during the heat spikes and found we were on par with Napa, even cooler some days. Lodi was truly blessed with excellent Napa-like growing conditions and very little rain from those few October storms.

Now it is up to our relatively new group of winemakers to not mess up this gift we've been given in our fermenters and deliver excellent world-class wines.

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