Category Archives: Master Of Wine Studies

The View from the Vineyard: 2014, Warmest Vintage in Ten Years??

This vintage is particularly intriguing to me for several reasons.

1) It is a drought year.

2) It is the warmest vintage in the past 10 years.

3) Flowering was difficult to say the least.

The drought issue is not news to anyone.  It’s been widely publicized.  However, I don’t think many people outside of the industry know how close we all really came to having zero water for this vintage.  All I hear from growers is how the vintage was saved by the significant February rainstorms.  Those two rain events which brought us over 15″ of rain in some areas may possibly be the only way some farmers were able to have a crop this year.  It was serious! It still is serious.  From July of 2013 to the end of May there has been 18″ of rain TOTAL easily making it the driest in the past 10 years.  Short shoots have been less of an issue this year simply because growers were prepared for it.  Last year didn’t look like a drought year but it was since we didn’t get a bit of significant rain from January of 2013 through the growing season.  The only reason it wasn’t classified as an official drought is because we got a season’s worth of rain in November and December of 2012.

Now to the warmth.  I haven’t heard very many people talking about this.  The main focus seems to be on the drought.  Over the past 10 years, 2004 has been the warmest with 1291 growing degree days or GDDs (If you aren’t sure what a Growing Degree Day is click here) as of the end of May.  This year we were at 1365 at the end of May and that wasn’t even including the two scorching days we had this past weekend of 105+ degrees F!  We are once again flirting with an early harvest similar to last year but with a much warmer overall season. We were super fortunate to have had a very mild frost season this year.  Of course, that probably contributed to this warming trend. I hope the rapid season does not translate into high sugars while we wait for phenolic ripeness to set in, but only the rest of the summer will tell.

This brings me to the third issue, Flowering.  The weather for flowering was not great this year.  It was cool, windy, and we had a rain event right in the middle.  It was classic for what you don’t want to have happen during flowering.  Shatter has been a problem, particularly in Merlot but overall the Cabernet looks ok.  My biggest concern is vines with clusters almost two weeks apart in development.  2013 was a vintage of an incredibly even flowering which translated into an even set, verasion, and harvest with everything coming ripe at the same time.  I don’t predict that same issue this year.  The variability between development on clusters on the same vine is pretty drastic.  Check out the picture below!

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This picture was taken about 2 weeks ago with one cluster at pea-size and another just finishing flowering! While this is not the end of the world, all the growers will need to be extra careful during verasion this year and pay particular attention to the green drop.  Carefully selecting and dropping the fruit that is behind will help even out the ripening for the remainder of the season.  This season will not be without it’s challenges but it doesn’t look like everything ripening at once, like last year, will be one of them.

That is the view from the vineyard.  On a personal note, I finished my last MW exam last week and am now starting to figure out what life is like post-MW preparation.  I found more free time and a slight reduction in stress although waiting for the results for 3 months definitely has it’s stressful moments.  The good thing is, the next 3 months will fly by because harvest will be here before we know it.

Author’s note: Weather data sited is for the Oakville, CA weather station.
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My Last Night as a Practical MW Student

Tomorrow through Friday I will be sitting the Master of Wine exam for the last time. I’m so excited for the exam in the morning but also I will miss the intense preparation a bit. Starting Saturday I will begin a life with no intensive structured studies. That is a life which I have experienced only for short periods. I suppose I ended up being a perpetual student anyway even though that is what I swore off once I graduated college in 2006. However in June of 2007 I signed up for my first WSET course and have been slowly acquiring certifications ever since with the ultimate goal of achieving the MW. I suppose it really is the process of learning I enjoy as well as the pursuit of a goal.

Thinking to tomorrow, I wonder what the examiners have set up for us? Classics? The hot new world area taking London by storm? Avant garde new production techniques? Small production obscure Italian varieties? All are possible but many are not probable. Probability points to classics. Standards which have been set over time. Chardonnay, Cabernet, and others however there are always surprises and that is what makes this fun. Did I just say that this is fun? Yes it is! This year I have found the fun in the practical exam. That is how I know I’m going to pass this year. If is because I know that whatever they set out for me tomorrow and Thursday and Friday, I am prepared to answer it. It’s a good feeling.

Now I’m going to go grab some pizza with a friend, maybe a beer, relax, do some last minute vintage studying before bed and wake up ready for the experience. Research Paper, here I come!

Unfulfilled Post Ideas from the Past Three Weeks!

Normally I don’t write many posts due to having no inspired thing to write about. The past few weeks I have had a TON of ideas but no time to write. Instead, I have decided to put some of them down to a single post and if anyone is very interested in one of them I’ll fill that thought out.

1) Harvest Update- we are about 10-18 days away from bloom! This is incredibly early and the weather over the next three weeks will go very far towards setting the tone of this harvest. Minimal frost to date as well for such a early harvest so things are going well so far.

2) Why is it not possible to find a family friendly restaurant with good food? Do foodie parents of young children not need good food outside of Napa? Maybe that makes me a snob but a recent weekend vacation to Monterrey, CA really opened my eyes to how spoiled we are here. Our favorite (pre-child) restaurant which shall remain nameless for this post had a sign posted outside. “No strollers, no small children!” Really? I’m tempted to never go back even after my son is grown just because we felt so discriminated against. We settled for a very kid friendly restaurant that used too much salt and baked fish in white wine sauce included a carton of cream and a stick (at least) of butter completely negating my healthy choice of the fish in the first place. The second night we were directed by the hotel concierge to another restaurant where the serving of lasagna I ordered could have easily fed a small village. Can some chef with kids do something about this travesty???

3) Almost 6 weeks to go until my MW exam. I’m busily tweaking my answer style, doing timed tastings and re writing answers from previous exams. I look back over the past 4 exams I’ve sat and I can almost tell where I went wrong on some of the wines. I remember how they tasted to me and my thought process. I can’t believe I went Germany instead of Alsace on a set of three wines, two of which were so clearly Gewürztraminer and Riesling. Why didn’t I just say Chardonnay on the last wine on Paper 1 last year. It certainly tasted like Chardonnay but I talked myself out of it since I thought I had found a set of Chardonnays earlier in the exam. I hadn’t and ended up getting three wines wrong all because I over thought the exam. This year my plan is to not over think, don’t second guess, relax and show the examiners that I do, actually know this stuff! Wish me luck!

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