Harvest 2010 — Initial Debrief

I’ve gone on and on here about how this was such a tough vintage. I saw some really awful vineyard problems (luckily, few in our vineyard), heard some unprecedented horror stories from growers and winemakers, and tasted some pretty sketchy wines (thankfully, none of them in our winery).

When the 2010 Grape Crush Report comes out, I think we will see yields down 20% from averages here in the North Coast. Zinfandel may be down more; Syrah will probably be down less. Cabernet may be down but I don’t have a good handle on that — folks just aren’t talking about how much fruit may not have been picked because it rotted or senesced before it got ripe. White grapes in the coastal and riverine appellations reportedly suffered heavy losses to mildew in the early part of the season and sunburn later.

As I have noted, we lucked out and avoided the worst of these problems in our Estate vineyard. We experienced no mildew and little sunburn. I’ve now identified three errors I made this year in the vineyard: one strategic, one tactical, and one unavoidable. In my earlier post I discussed the strategic error of not following a program of maintenance irrigation through the season. The downside to this failure this season was that we saw leaf senescence earlier in the year than we might have otherwise. I’m not sure if/how this may have affected juice quality. The upside is that the root systems of the vines should have responded by digging deeper, faster than they ever have to date — meaning that we may need even less irrigation in the future.

The tactical error came late in the season. In retrospect, I should have responded sooner than I did to the rains between October 21th and 29th with heavier thinning and more canopy opening in the Counoise. In prior years this variety has shown good resistance to Botrytis, and I relied on this experience more than I should have. This year the Counoise rotted, and we had to drop 2/3 of the crop before we finally picked.

The “unavoidable” error was getting caught out by frost which damaged the Grenache. I mentioned this back in June but it wasn’t until October that we finally got a handle on how much crop we lost. We had no forecast warning of this particular frost event, and the cold air rushed down the hill above us so fast that the damage had been done before we could have turned on the frost protection. Farming.

A lot of predictions have been made that this will be a very “European” vintage, especially with respect to higher than usual acid levels and lower pH. I have heard some reports that folks brought in some Sauvignon Blanc with screaming acids early in the season, but didn’t hear much after that. The acid levels in our juice were pretty average, but — surprising me — the potassium levels were also relatively low though the pH was high. The concern is that with low potassium, the wines will stabilize with high acid levels as well as high pH.

The finished alcohols in our wines are turning out lower than average — so far I have measured nothing over 14% (for a change). Our grapes achieved what I would describe as “average” physiological ripeness in the seeds, skin and pulp at sugar levels that were less ripe, acid levels that were on the high side of “normal” and at pH levels that were over-ripe. I don’t have an explanation for this.

There may be a few wines coming out of the North Coast in the 2010 vintage that are relatively thin and vegetal (IMO — this does not equate to “European”) but so far it seems that these will be the exception and not the rule. Certainly none of the wines that I have made so far this vintage are thin or vegetal — even the Grenache and Counoise that we picked so late. Again, this vintage for us it was all about the luck. My skills were hardly challenged, though my patience was.

2 thoughts on “Harvest 2010 — Initial Debrief

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