It has been since May that I posted. I had a half-dozen posts in draft when I sat down to re-acquaint myself with this blog today, and I realized that I just was not going to ever finish most of them. Today I polished and published a couple of them, dated from their original conceptions in June.
So if you are interested in the reason for the hiatus, and maybe want to hear how our 2009 vintage turned out…
Back in May I woke up one morning with a large lump on my neck. It took a while to determine that it was not viral or bacterial, and it was late August before it was diagnosed as cancer. Turned out that the primary tumor was in my right tonsil. After surgery, chemoradiation treatment started in October and was complete toward the end of November. I’m recovering, and my treatment team feels there is a good prognosis.
It’s hard to think how this could have happened at a more ridiculous time. I owe a debt of gratitude to my family, friends, and the winemaking teams at Enkidu and Anaba who helped me get through the difficult 2009 harvest. Thanks, guys.
The 2009 vintage did not start out being difficult — in fact it started out perfect. The growing season started late and it looked like it was going to be a serious drought year, until welcome rains in May bailed us out. We had very even flowering and set in all our varieties. Temperatures throughout the season were moderate, with no excessive or extended heat spells. In these ways I was reminded of the 1998 growing season. By this September I was happy to be looking at the most even and balanced crop I have seen at our Annadel Estate vineyard since it went into production in 2005.
We picked a small amount of Pinot off the young vines (clones 943 & 777) on September 19th, and the balance of the old-vine Pinot (clones 115 & 667) on October 7th and 8th. Pinot yields were a perfect 2.5 tons/acre, and the berries were generally uniformly small and multi-seeded — very little of the “hens & chicks” we have seen in recent years, and a consequence of good weather during set. The picking date was later than the previous record by three days — a testimony to the relative cool temperatures this season.
Then we got over 3″ of rain on October 13th and another 0.5″+ on October 19th. The weather did not get dry, breezy and warm after the storms as we hoped, which would have helped to restrict the appearance of Botrytis. I started to see some rot in the Grenache — our most susceptible variety — around the 23rd of the month.
Our Syrah was not affected when we took it off on October 28th. We ended up with a small amount of rot in our Tannat, Mourvedre and Counoise, but this was easy to pick around on October 27th, November 2nd and November 6th, respectively. Our Grenache looked as bad as any fruit I have ever seen in California when we picked it on November 4th. This was the latest we have ever picked the Annadel Estate, by four days.
As harvests go, this only ranks as the third most difficult in my experience. We got a lot more rain in 1989, and the end of the 2000 vintage was the most logistically challenging I have ever faced. By comparison to these two, 2009 was a piece of cake.
This year I continued to inoculate late, pushing inoculation back farther than I have in any vintage to date, and using less yeast. Because of the cool temperatures and ample moisture, Brix levels were generally lower than average and I was able to complete the Syrah and Mourvedre lots without inoculating at all. The cool vintage also meant that natural acidity levels were higher than average, requiring less correction.
The Pinots and Syrah are stellar wines. The Tannat was a surprise — as inky-dark as usual but with very restrained tannins for a change! I don’t exactly know what to make of it just yet, but I like it so far. The Mourvedre came in less dark and more spicy than in recent years — I’m very excited to see how it works in the redFOUR blend. The Counoise is a revelation, with lovely white pepper spice and more fruit than we have seen from it so far. I was concerned that the Grenache was going to be a disaster, but I have dealt with Botrytis in Grenache before, brought my skill set to bear, and think I have pulled a rabbit out of the hat. We’ll see.
The grape commodity market was very tight due to the continued weak economy. We sold very little fruit this vintage, meaning I have more fruit for Westwood this year. These wines won’t come to market until 2013; we’re hopeful that the luxury market has rebounded by then because we are going to have a lot of great wine to sell!