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MONDAY MANIFESTOS
01/03/2011
Monday Manifestos
2011—The Year The Sun Came Back Out

By Charles Olken

It is hard to imagine it in the midst of a San Francisco winter, but 2011 will be the year the sun comes back out for the California wine industry. No matter that the skies have not yet fully accepted the message. We expect them to weep in Winter. Indeed, we need them to open up and wet down everything in sight because we know that it never rains in California in the summertime. That is why so many of us came here in the first place—we like the natural beauty of the place, we like the amazing diversity of people and experiences, and, yes, we like the weather that allows us to be out of doors all winter and to stay out in the noon-day sun of summer without being accused of being either mad or English.

For reasons that only “Mother” knows, 2010 was the year in which the sun refused to shine. Not only did old Sol not ripen the grapes according to schedule but, when at least, the dear boy deigned to make an appearance, it was if he was trying to make up for months of bad behavior by overachieving and thereby burning up a fair bit of the crop in a blaze of inglory. To be sure, we know that the early-ripening varieties generally faired better than the late-hanging reds, and we know that the tale of the vintage is not writ in the weather report but in the resulting wine. But, even if 2010 ultimately performs adequately, it will not have been with the normal help from the sun.

Of course, the gloom of 2010 went far beyond what was happening to vineyards and grapes. This was also a challenging sales year, and we have seen wineries slide from existence, while others have had to retrench and hang on by their fingernails. Perhaps because the industry has been so incredibly prosperous for the past decade and more, we did not see the wholesale slaughter that had been predicted by the purveyors of doom and gloom. In that regard, even without a lot of financial sun, the industry has turned out in 2010 to have been a little bit like the vintage—far from optimal but not as bad as predicted.

And now it is 2011. The economic tides are turning. Many of our retail and winery contacts report their best Holiday seasons in a couple of years, and even if the next twelve months are merely periods of getting financial feet back on the ground and building a base for the next decade, every indication is that the national economy and the California wine industry economy have turned the corner and are in full rebound mode.

Now, it is up to old Sol to do his thing. We have had a series of cool vintages here in California, but, they generally have been of average to exceptional (see 2007) in quality. We expect nothing less in 2011 because this is the year that the sun will come back out.

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