2010 Harvest - Full of Challenge, Full of Promise
California - Napa & Sonoma
Just days after record-breaking, triple digit temperatures across much of California, the 2010 grape harvest swung into action – a full two to three weeks later than normal!
This stage is the grand finale in one of the most unique vintages in recent memory, which some predict could be the greatest in as many as 30 years. However, the palpable excitement over the evolving quality of the vintage is coupled by anxiety over deciding when to pick, with a later harvest increasing the likelihood of undesirable rain or a pesky cold snap or, even worse, both.
But so far so good in both Napa and Sonoma – the gorgeous fall weather is gamely cooperating, and each of Montesquieu’s blocks is showing beautifully. To date, yields are down as much as twenty percent in Napa and Sonoma, but the projections are saying this could be one of the finest vintages in years, eliciting wines that are lower in alcohol, extremely vibrant in flavor and color, and with that elusive balance that is a winemakers – and wine lovers – dream about.
Our parcel in the magnificent Charles Smith vineyard,
farmed by Sonoma legend Phil Coturri
Our winemaker Hélène Mingot is positively beaming about the uniqueness of the 2010 vintage and the projected high quality all the way around. When asked if she had a favorite parcel, she answered much as a proud parent would when asked to choose a favorite child – with genuine love and appreciation for each property, saying that “they each have their own special qualities, some are easier and some more difficult but all are beautiful.”
As Hélène tends to properties daily, she has her experienced “finger on the pulse” of all vineyard variables. She noted that this year we witnessed a rare triangle of a moist spring, cold summer and now, thankfully, a beautiful sunny and dry fall. This is consistent with a typical La Niña climate, except this year the effects have been much more pronounced than anticipated. In an El Niño year, ocean water temperatures are higher, resulting in warm dry weather on the Pacific Coast. In contrast, the La Niña pattern results in cooler water temperatures, which cause lower coastal temperatures and a persistent marine inversion tendency. So it has been in 2010, during which we experienced both cool temperatures and pervasive, lingering coastal cloud layers. In many places “June Gloom” lasted well into July and August, including days and weeks when the temperature never rose above 60 degrees before noon. A very cold summer indeed!
The advantage of such conditions is that grapes get longer hang time in cooler temperatures, which results in more elegant and balanced wines without sacrificing depth and complexity. In warmer, El Niño-like weather, the fruit can ripen so quickly that the sugars levels skyrocket, making it difficult to elicit nuances because of high alcohol and over-extraction. Unsurprisingly, Hélène and Stéphane Derenoncourt report that they love the 2010 vintage, delighting in the opportunity to work in harmony with what the grapes provide, and to authentically yield complex, elegant and balanced wines that are also full of exuberant flavor and color.
We will keep you posted as the 2010 California tale unfolds!
The buzz in Bordeaux is all about the potential for 2009 and 2010 to be two great vintages back to back – and the consensus is that it could actually happen. But the recent rain storm in Bordeaux pushed some to the edge of their seats. On October 4, almost one inch of rain fell in a single day in certain areas of the Medoc, falling most heavily in the northern end of St. Estephe. Margaux, St, Julien and Pauillac fared better, but throughout the Left Bank there is nervous speculation of the rot that could develop if the weather warms up right now. For now, the Medoc growers are crossing their fingers for some wind and cool temperatures to dry the vineyards. Notwithstanding these recent challenges, the Bordelais’ outlook remains upbeat. After all, Bordeaux is a marine climate and many famous vintages, including 1982 and 1990, experienced rain during the harvest.
Much of the Merlot has already been picked and Cabernet Sauvignon has thicker skins making it more resilient. The general 2010 Bordeaux vintage pattern shares some similarities with Napa and Sonoma: the harvest started later than usual, the yields are down, yet high quality fruit is projected overall. Conditions resulted in thicker skins, with high polyphenols similar to 2009, low yields, and small, concentrated grapes with higher acidity. Industry insiders report that much of the Merlot from both the Right and Left Banks has more flavor and better acidity than last year. The nights were cooler than last year, resulting in the ample acidity needed for fresher, more balanced, and hence more elegant wines.
The main challenge growers are facing is the choice between picking now before additional rain falls, even though tannins may not be fully developed, or waiting to achieve optimal ripeness while risking potential rain. This dilemma is more pronounced in Bordeaux, compared with Napa and Sonoma, because of the higher likelihood of rain. As with anywhere, much depends on the skill, technique and experience of those involved, and the philosophy of winemaking to begin with. It seems very likely the 2009 and 2010 vintages will be back-to-back beauties – but will ‘10 surpass ‘09? Stay tuned!
The real story in Burgundy is the dramatic storm in mid-September that had harvest off to a rocky start as rain and hail pelted the Côte de Beaune with particular force. Savigny-lès-Beaune incurred damage to their vines east of Beaune, and heavy rain fell in Pommard, Monthélie, Santenay, Auxey-Duresses and Chassagne-Montrachet. Meursualt seemed to fare comparatively well. Pommard endured three inches of rain during the storm, with mud cascading through the streets. Even before the storm, rot was a problem causing a drop in yields. The clusters were large and berries close together which made them more susceptible to rot. So far grapes have reached maturity in some areas, while in other areas opinions are divided between harvesting now with variable maturity or waiting (very much the theme this year it seems).
Winemakers remained optimistic in the Côte de Nuits to the north, which experienced far less storm damage. And never underestimate the resilient nature of Burgundians – with some of the most skilled winemakers in the entire world, they are likely to find magic in the most difficult vintages.
In the Northern Rhone, harvest began a week behind average, thanks to the cold weather during flowering back in early June. July and August were lovely with nice hot days and fresh nights, which produces excellent phenolic levels. 2010 is revealing a very healthy crop, with great structure from dark fruit and plentiful tannins. Yields were lower in some of the plateau areas due to some flowering in the rain, whereas hillside vineyards are seeing normal yields so far.
In the Southern Rhone, the rain produced mixed results, with reds fairing overall better than whites. Syrah was largely ripe as the rains set in, and Mourvèdre finished ripening. Some of the Grenache, especially those from vines planted in clay-based soils, ripened more slowly due to drainage issues and coulure (when flowers fail to convert into fruit). However what is showing of Grenache is very attractive. For their part, the whites have largely rebounded from the rain and are now in good shape. As a reminder that Mother Nature is in charge, and that stress produces character, Mistral winds set in on September 8th, and harvesting resumed quickly on September 9th. Vive la lutte!
By all accounts, we have a promising vintage on our hands – not only here at home but also in France and elsewhere!