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Thursday Thorns
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

By Stephen Eliot

The harvest is fast upon us, the excitement in wine country is palpable.

Winemakers are among our occasional tasting-panel participants here at CGCW, and, while our invitees are never asked to taste and evaluate their own wines, we have always valued the insights and perspectives afforded by those who actually make the stuff. Two of them joined us for last night’s tasting of newly released Cabernet Sauvignons, and the topic of conversation inevitably turned to the 2012 vintage as soon as the evening’s work was done.

It was obvious that the winemaking duo both seemed a little more animate and in higher spirits than usual, and we asked if this was normal for them as harvest neared. After but the briefest pause for thought, they confessed that yes, this was without question the most exhilarating time of year, the season in which they truly earned their spurs. As important as a wine’s lengthy elevage might be, crush is the time during which everything seems a little more vivid and alive and exciting.

We noticed their buoyancy too, and it seemed to us that there were more smiles and unforced optimism this year than in the past two or three when talking about the impending harvest. We have seen and heard the same up and down the coast over the last couple of weeks, and, while there is potential for peril between now and when the last grapes are picked a couple of months hence, we have yet to hear a discouraging word.

Now, I admit that most every vintage hereabouts is touted as being a success by those who make wines, yet many of those who praised 2010 and 2011 with straight faces did so without real conviction, and we received too many candid reports that things in the vineyard were difficult at best.

Some have claimed that the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages were incontrovertible proof of climate change in California and that winemakers had best rethink the ways in which wine should be made. Some have gone so far as to praise those years as the dawn of a new golden age and piously scolded winemakers who still believed in ripe fruit and richness. When asked for their thoughts on such pronouncements, winemakers with whom we have spoken have for the most part offered a range of responses from rolled eyes and bemused smiles to downright disdain.

At this point, 2012 is by all accounts shaping up as a vintage in which winemakers can pick when they choose, practice their craft and do what they like rather than what nature absolutely demands, and, in that regard, I share in their infectious enthusiasm.

We have a ways to go, to be sure, but the race has begun and the start is a good one.


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