2010 California Vintage: Challenging Growing Season Promises Elegant Wines
SAN FRANCISCO — The challenging 2010 California winegrape harvest is in and owners and winemakers are relieved and enthusiastic about the quality. A wet spring followed by a late start and long, cool growing season ending with a heat spike allowed grapes to reach maturity, with several regions reporting slightly lower sugars, higher acids and deep colors and flavors. The season was a balancing act with some winegrowers trimming fruit or pulling leaves to assure full fruit maturity. Regions reported lower to normal yields. The good news is that what was brought in displays remarkable quality throughout the state with several vintners predicting a more restrained, elegant style of wine.
The crop is forecast at 3.3 million tons, down 6 percent from the August forecast, and down 12 percent from last year, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture crop forecast published the first week of October.
"The 2010 growing season for Monticello Vineyards in Napa Valley was another successful vintage. The season will be remembered as relatively long due to the cool and mild temperatures that lasted until the end of August. Even with some late August and early September heat spikes, we began harvest about 10–14 days later than normal," said winegrower J. Kevin Corley, Monticello Vineyards. "We found good, well developed flavors across all the varieties we farm. Most varieties reached the optimum ripeness at slightly lower than normal Brix levels which will translate into slightly lower alcohol levels. Our vineyard yields, which are typically low, were just below our five-year average. At this early stage, the Cabernet Sauvignon lots look especially exciting because of their color and concentration."
In Sonoma, winemaker Rick Sayre of Rodney Strong Vineyards in Healdsburg reported that the fruit came in ripe and mature. "The biggest problem was muddy spots in the vineyard that made it difficult to get the equipment through. Quality looks very good across the board. We did have to select pick a few vineyards due to heat damage, but we believe we have amazingly high quality for our Reserves and Estates."
"In general, this year’s harvest was very interesting with a late start due to the cool spring and summer weather, subsequently followed by summer heat spike events then fall rains. Wine quality should be good to very good, judging from the chemistries coming from grapes harvested throughout the nine counties in California where we have vineyards," said Hal Huffsmith, senior vice president of vineyard operations for Trinchero Family Estates.
"Consumers across the U.S. and in 125 countries enjoy our California wines," said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, president and CEO of Wine Institute. "The 2010 vintage promises to deliver the consistent quality, sustainability and diverse offerings that they have come to know and expect from our great state."
HARVEST 2010 QUOTES
Jim Ryan, vice president, operations, Concannon Vineyards
This year's harvest has been a little trying for the winemakers in the Livermore Valley. Crazy weather patterns but some of the highest acid levels I have seen from a California crush. At the end of the day, it's going to make a very well balanced great bottle of wine. Mother Nature makes sure that when she gives up something great, we usually have to work for it.
Michael Phillips, co-owner/director of winemaking, Michael-David Winery
This was a phenomenal vintage for Lodi! The cooler summer created very balanced grapes and wine. We got through the August heat spell without any major issues, as we irrigated and kept the canopy shading the sunny side of the vines. There was some shatter in the spring, which lowered the crop level. Tonnage varied by variety. Syrah was lighter and Zinfandel was heavier than normal. We were done with harvest by the time it rained in October, and all the fruit was in great shape. It was a consolidated season, from the beginning of September extending to the end of October. Lodi will be a shining star of California’s 2010 vintage.
David Brutocao, winemaker, Brutocao Cellars
A cold, wet spring brought a late start to the growing season. Summer in Hopland was warm, but not as hot as normal. We did not experience anywhere near the amount of morning fog and cool temperatures as in other North Coast regions, so we did not have to pull leaves to the same extent to open the vines to the sun. When the heat spike hit in August, we did not experience sun damage to our crop. Yields in most varieties were as good or better than in 2009, particularly in Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. End of October rains extended harvest into November, with Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon riding through the rain. The Zinfandel made it through in good condition, as did most of the Cabernet. The fruit had good acid and pH, with rich, intense flavors and colors.
Michael Blaylock, winemaker, Quady Winery
Spring and grapevine bud-break gave all indications that 2010 was going to be a very normal growing season in Madera County. Veraison told another story. Reviewing 17 years of accumulated data from Quady Winery, veraison in our Muscat vineyards proved to be the second latest ever. This, of course, translated to a harvest that was a full two weeks later than normal, and pushed the white and early grape harvest into somewhat crazy scheduling conflicts with the deliveries of red grapes at the crusher. Work schedules really were 24/7 for everyone. All things considered, there was a “silver lining” in that the longer, slower growing season resulted in grapes that developed incredible aromas and flavors with outstanding acid and pH levels.
Steve Lohr, executive VP/COO vineyards, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
The 2010 growing season in Monterey County was the coolest since 1998. Cool weather in May led to a protracted bloom and set. Many growers were finding that they had above-average crop loads until a very unusual 108-plus degree heat wave came in August, just after veraison. Riesling and Pinot Noir were hard hit with losses of 20 - 30 percent, while most other varieties were much less affected. Many grapes, especially Chardonnay, were harvested roughly 1-1.5 degrees Brix below average due to a cool September and October. Grape acidity was nicely preserved, and extended hang time has resulted in nice peach, apricot and other stone fruit flavors in the wines.
In Paso Robles, three years of drought ended with a winter of above average rainfall. With mild weather during set followed by the relatively cool year, vineyards used the available water to hang slightly more fruit than average. This was the year of the smart farmer; those growers who were able to keep their fruit/vine ratio in balance and stay ahead of mildew pressures, while accounting for the cooler year, managed to harvest high quality fruit. The winning variety for Paso Robles this year appears to be Syrah, with 25 percent more color than average, and exceptional flavors and tannin balance. October rains that hit some regions in California largely bypassed Monterey and Paso Robles, where rainfall was generally less than one-half inch. Nevertheless, an early frost hit Paso the morning of October 27, accelerating the harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre.
Michael Weis, winemaker, Groth Vineyards & Winery
This year we went from winter directly to fall with very little time for normal summer vineyard activities. 2010 was a cool year with several heat spikes that not only helped accelerate the maturation of slowly ripening clusters but also desiccated un-shaded fruit. It was a year for a great deal of work in the vineyard before, during and after veraison to be sure that only the best fruit reached the crush pad. The level of raisining in the Bordeaux varieties required extensive thinning just prior to picking. Fortunately, most fruit in our area had been picked before the big rain event in late October.
Jason Diefenderfer, director of winemaking
Hope Family Wines (Treana, Liberty School, Candor, Westside & Austin Hope wines)
The 2010 harvest was unique in Paso Robles: it brought both high and low temperatures, wind and rain, but the grapes seemed content to wait until October to be picked. Thankfully, these events were not drastic and simply required some maneuvering and patience. They caused few issues other than stressful nights. We’re extremely happy with the overall quality; 2010 Paso Robles wines should show full flavors and depth with slightly lower alcohol levels.
Jim Stollberg, vineyard manager, Riverbench Vineyard and Winery
Harvest wrapped up for most of the Santa Maria Valley by the end of October. A few vineyards brought in the last of the later varieties, like Syrah, the first week in November, after holding out as long as possible. The cool summer and optimism for average yields and exceptional grape quality due to the extended hang time is interesting, as the weather turned variable in September. Longtime vineyard managers haven’t seen such fickle weather in the past few decades. A cycle of extreme, extended heat followed by rain and cold days and nights repeated itself for several weeks. In the vineyard we did not have an issue getting the fruit picked. The wines are showing exceptionally well; flavors are intense and developed. Though the vintage was a challenging one, I remain optimistic that our harvest time woes impacted operations but not quality.
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS
Cheryl Murphy Durzy, proprietor/vice president, Clos LaChance
Optimal temperatures during bloom and fruit set brought on an above average crop load, but a mild summer pushed harvest as much as a month late in some varieties. Most vineyards had to be crop thinned to promote even maturation in almost all varieties. The fear that late season grape varieties might not reach full maturity was curbed when mid 80- to low 90-degree weather engulfed the early to mid part of October.
Quality has shown to be up across the board due to the extended maturation period and extended hang time in all vineyards and varieties. Large cluster varieties like Grenache and Zinfandel have shown extremely low yields, while Merlot, Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc yields are higher than average. Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are showing higher acids and lower sugar levels, making for much more elegant and stylistic wines with greater potential for aging than usual. Late season cooling and rain have made for perfect storage conditions on the vine while the last of the Cabernet was harvested at optimal maturity. All in all, above average quality and yields resulted with exceptional lots coming out of the Santa Cruz Mountains Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals.
Bill Easton, winemaker & winegrower, Terre Rouge & Easton Wines
This has been a very strange, difficult, sometimes frustrating, and unusual year. Fortunately most of the resulting wines have been made from grapes where very good flavors have developed. Yields were down. Staying on top of your vineyards made a big difference this year. Our mountain fruit harvested from four Sierra Foothills counties (Placer, El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras) was physiologically ripe at lower sugar and potential alcohol levels and retained good natural acidity in most instances. The resulting wines have great elegance and balance.
Spring rains lasted in California until June 1, affecting fruit set. Summer was mostly very cool, but in late August there was hot weather that damaged some un-shaded clusters, particularly on head-trained vines. The clusters were at a fragile and susceptible state of development because of late flowering and delayed development from the cool summer. Harvest began late with Sauvignon Blanc on September 15, and red grapes starting the week of September 26. There was a bit of rain on October 3 and then significant rain, near 4 inches, October 22-25. There was a frost in lower cold vineyard spots on October 27. Zinfandel, more susceptible to bunch rot, was mostly harvested prior to the large rain. Late ripening Syrah and Mourvèdre were harvested in mid-November.
Julie Pedroncelli St. John, vice president of marketing, Pedroncelli Winery
Our vineyard manager was very happy with how the Cabernet Sauvignon blocks looked—great hang time, lots of juice. Everything came in perfectly ripened with great hang time achieved in the month of October. However, this year will also go down in the Pedroncelli vineyard book with Zinfandel being the hardest hit by the one-two punch of the weather in August (very cool and then up to 108 degrees of heat almost overnight). Overall, we saw a loss of around 10-15 percent in most varieties and lost 50 percent or a bit more from our Zinfandel production—our flagship wine. In order to bring in the best fruit possible, we employed the grape picking crew by the hour, rather than by the bucket, to comb through the Zinfandel on each vine to make sure that the best fruit was hand picked, and the bunches were screened a second time as they were brought to the gondola. The silver lining was the very good weather experienced during September and October brought us outstanding fruit. We’ll have the best wine we could make because of our diligence at harvest.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY
Alex McGeary, owner/winemaker, Shadow Mountain Vineyards and Winery
The season started out well, although lower and higher elevations experienced higher than average amounts of late killing frost on May 23. The spring was cool and overcast, vine growth and canopies were full and lush, evo-transpiration and irrigation sets were less all season. Relative humidity and powdery mildew were up with more control applications, taking a toll of 15 percent in the most vulnerable varieties that we grow. Overall, the harvest was up and good, with 20 percent increase for three years in a row. That's good with San Diego County wineries continuing to open with a need for grapes.
Les Linkogle, owner, Briar Rose Winery
The 2010 vintage brought an outstanding growing season. The moist coastal breeze cooled the vines in the evening amid warm summer days. An unusual amount of rain kept the vines naturally hydrated. The hot days of summer just prior to harvest produced outstanding fruit with rich and velvety tannins. The climate also brought rich, deep color and bursting flavors on the reds. The intense sun produced a beautiful golden texture on the Viognier berry skins yielding exceptional fruit.
Greg Fowler, senior vice president of operations, Constellation Wines U.S.
We are very pleased with Constellation's 2010 California harvest across all of our wineries and properties. In the Central Coast we are seeing great color and structure. The Pinot Noir is so dark and ripe; it has the visual characteristics of a Syrah. Scott Kelly, our winemaker at Estancia, is really excited about the 2010 Monterey County harvest—particularly the flavor development. In Oakville, Genevieve Janssens, our winemaker at Robert Mondavi Winery, noted that coolness in the Napa Valley gave the Cabernet and Merlot an unexpected elegance this year, which we are confident will result in some very high quality wines. In Lodi, at our Woodbridge winery, Todd Zeiman expressed that this harvest yielded the best ripeness and flavor that he has seen in a long time. And finally, in Sonoma—both Clos du Bois winemaker Gary Sitton and Simi’s winemaker Steve Reeder—agree that they are extremely pleased with the quality this year, especially the Chardonnay. There were of course some challenges during this year, which is what makes winemaking such an exciting art. The harvest got off to a late start and the crop was light in areas, but overall, 2010 is going to turn out to be a beautiful year for wine.
Erik Olsen, chief winemaker, Constellation Wines U.S. also reported, "Across our California wineries, the 2010 vintage produced wines that show outstanding color, acidity and varietal flavors. The cool growing season resulted in slower ripening of the crop, increased time on the vine, and an increase in color and flavor development in the fruit."
Jay Indelicato, senior vice president, wine and vineyard operations, Delicato Family Vineyards
The cool weather kept the vines in excellent shape, allowing the grapes to hang on the vine, developing outstanding flavors and color at lower sugar levels. If there was a problem in some areas, it was due to the short heat spike in August. This lowered the crop level in some varieties. Overall, the cool weather and smaller berry size resulted in good concentration and mature flavors at lower sugar levels. I am very optimistic about the quality of the 2010 vintage.