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Monday Manifestos
2012--A Vintage Worthy Of The Name

By Stephen Eliot

Weather watching becomes an obsession this time of the year for those of us inhabiting wine country, and, after a succession of cooler days at the end of September, last week’s heat spike here in the North Coast has us all breathing a bit easier.

Not to say that the harvest was in any sort trouble, but after an early and stellar start to what was generally regarded as an exceptional vintage, there was a bit of a lull as temperatures eased and red varietals other than Pinot went into what might best be called “standby mode.” Well, a few days of triple-digit temperatures have served to jump-start the harvest, and, even accepting that winemakers always manage to find silver linings to even the darkest clouds, this year the excitement of those to whom we have talked is ever more palpable.

Volker Eisele sums it up succinctly by stating that “the real harvest has started” now that Cabernet Sauvignon and its cousins are reaching full physiological maturity. The sentiment seems universal throughout Napa Valley at this point, and we have yet to hear any discouraging words from Sonoma or Mendocino. Renowned grower Lee Hudson in Carneros regards vintage conditions as nothing less than perfect and claims to be getting goosebumps over the remarkable quality of his Merlot grapes, and the transcendent looks of satisfaction that we saw on the faces of Doug Shafer and winemaker, Elias Fernandez, when tasting incoming Cabernet grapes last week said it all.

Our excitement and concerns as reviewers who taste thousands of new wines every year are no less than that of vintners themselves. There is, in all truth, nothing so disheartening as knowing that we will be faced with a challenging year as we were in 2011 in which real successes are the exception rather than the norm. It is simply not possible to have too many good wines, and, while our job is to report on them all, that job becomes one less of work and more of unbridled pleasure when we are able to write more about what is right rather than what is wrong.

As for 2012, we must of course wait until the wines are safely in barrel and bottle, and there is always the possibility of unexpected turns and twists yet to come. Given the vagaries of weather over the past several years we are trying to temper our growing excitement with caution, but excepting for those folks driven by the doctrine that ripeness is a crime, there are smiles enough to go around at this point.

The good feelings hereabouts are becoming downright infectious.


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no low alcohols
by John Kelly
Posted on:10/8/2012 11:42:08 AM

Remember that this the newbie wien experts were blowing smoke about the last couple vintages? That "trent to lower alcohols"? Forget about it. At the beginning of the 2012 harvest we did have some fruit that reached physiological ripeness at moderate sugars, but levels still a percent or two higher than in 2011. But most fruit coming in now is ripening at well over 24 Brix. A bigger issue is that the volumes caught everyone left-footed: wineries are full to capacity and some grapes are hanginig waiting for fermenter space. I've been hearing of stuff coming in at 27-28 Brix.

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