Harvest 2011: How California became Italy
This year has had it all. We started with heavy frost on the Central Coast, rain during bloom and spring hail. The craziness continued with a long temperate summer which was punctuated by few heat spikes (if you can call mid 90s a heat spike out here). Growers fought Powdery Mildew and numerous invasive insect species all summer including the European Grapevine Moth, Light Brown Apple Moth, and the Oriental Fruitfly. For those growers who were able to get through the gauntlet of summer, everything was looking perfect until early October when the rain came back and brought with it watered down flavors, muted colors, and botrytis. As I woke to the sound of frost fans in northern Napa Valley today I felt that we had come full circle.
Today is the last day of harvest for Asti Winery. We’ve survived although the last three weeks have been crazy and stressful. It’s also a time of reflection over the wines that are fermenting away from this vintage. The floral whites are beautiful. Marked by crisp acid and intense white flower and spice notes, the Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer have really stood out this harvest. The Chardonnays that were harvested before the first October rain, while lower in alcohol, are displaying elegant fruit flavors and balanced acids. The alcohol conversions on whites this year were insanely high. Sugars that were picked at 23 Brix are topping out in the 13.5% range showing extremely efficient yeast conversion. Chardonnays picked after the rains look to be less concentrated than the pre-rain picks plus they are showing Botrytized characters that lean towards a bit earthy in most cases. Luckily most of our lots are pre-rain thanks to the hustle of our vineyard crews and growers.
It was yesterday as we tasted through pressed off Cabernets though when I came to the realization that my tasting notes were not that of a typical California Cabernet. Aromas of raspberry leaves, black currants, and sous-bois shined through in the best examples with high acid and moderate alcohol on the palate paired with moderately high powdery tannins. Granted these wines are pre-ML and have not seen oak for the most part but it struck me as very similar to my notes on Cabernet from Tuscany. As we’ve been saying all along, this vintage will be vastly different from what has become the norm in California. There will be some bad wine out there, I’m sure, but I believe that there will also be a new style of California wine to be found this year. All the proponents that have been wishing for lower alcohol, this is your year! The reds had the opposite issue from the whites as the conversion rates were very low. Even the higher Brix reds (which were anything over 24 this year) are only showing in the high 13% range. It’s going to be interesting to see how these wines develop and how each winery dealt with this challenging year. Most of all I feel sorry for anyone who gets one of this vintage on a blind exam down the road because it’s going to be so different from what is accepted as a typical California style.
As for me, I’m looking forward to capturing the spirit of this vintage in my wines this year. I think it will be fun!