Harvest Report September 2009 - Crunch Time in the Vineyards
Harvest is upon much of the northern hemisphere, its vineyards teaming with anticipation as the sugar-laden grapes await the perfect time to be picked. Summer's final dose of sunshine and warmth is gracing the grapes with one last push of energy. On account of the recent heat, several regions have already witnessed the first passes made through the vines to pick early ripening varietals. This is crunch time for the wine world: the culmination of a million little decisions made through the course of the year.
The following is a quick survey of how the 2009 harvest is shaping up in some of our favorite regions:
ITALY – The big story in Italy thus far is the enduring summer heat in Piedmont. Native white grapes like Cortese and Arneis are already being picked. Historically known for its foggy, cool climate, the region and its growers are hoping for a reprieve from the heat so as to extend the growing season, especially for their precious late-ripening Nebbiolo. One of Montesquieu's favorite producers, Barolo veteran Livia Fontana, started harvesting her white grapes in the third week of August, several days earlier than usual. For the Nebbiolo, additional hang-time would balance sugar levels with the signature acidity that buttresses the region's age-worthy Barolo and Barbaresco. The vintage's style hangs in the balance: continued heat could bring another exotic year like 2003, but a touch of coolness could yield a classic vintage like 1996 or 2000.
FRANCE – In Bordeaux and Burgundy, visions of a repeat of 2005 – already a legendary vintage – are dancing in vintners' heads. Whereas Bordeaux's 2008 vintage was saved by truly miraculous warm weather last year, early 2009 vintage reports suggest an ideal growing season with low yields, ample ripeness and a leisurely harvest that promises to ensure both complexity and freshness in the grapes. This is true of both the Left and Right Banks. As always in Bordeaux, harvest began with Sauvignon Blanc – this year with Chateau Carbonnieux of Pessac-Léognan on August 27.
The pending harvest in Burgundy appears to be equal appealing, further fueling the Burgundian legend that years ending in '9' are predisposed to brilliance. Any similarities to years like '29, '59, or '89 will add allure to the vintage's potential and cement it as a collector must-have. The ban de vendange – Burgundy's first official day of harvest – is set for September 5, an early start date but one that reflects ideal weather patterns promising low yields and remarkable complexity for the Cote d'Or. Top Chardonnays will exude lush opulent fruit and many of the Pinot Noirs will express that atypical extra layer of 'baby-fat' while retaining classic structure. The finest examples of both grapes promise the freshness and aging potential that vaulted the 2005 vintage to collector status.
USA – Montesquieu's California expert Hélène Mingot, who is making final preparations for harvest, reports that the latest nudge of warm weather has brought to Napa the first wave of Sauvignon Blanc harvest, with Chardonnay soon to follow. For most producers, yields look average. Most of Montesquieu's fruit is still far from harvest: Our high elevation grapes from Ink Grade and Stagecoach are slowly coming into balance with ripe flavors and refreshing acidity. Grapes from these parcels are showing promising concentration and low yields – which could make for a powerful, sublime 2009 vintage.