Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Vintage Report


The hand is the window to the mind. - Kant

Weather is often a big part of the grape story. La Niña has been with us for a bit and this winter is expected to look somewhat like the last one. Tahoe needs snow and the Central Valley needs rain while LA floods. The future weather pattern is expected to be less dramatic than last winter's though, and Lake County has a fairly good level of mountainous protection from the Coastal influence and the Central Valley. The quick chart below shows the precipitation numbers for Kelseyville South (our area) and I am always impressed by the rainfall totals (some areas like Upper Lake can be much higher) in such a warm region. The totals are about even with Portland, Oregon ironically. The drought years are clear as can be.

Thru Dec. 2005
14.1” rain
Total 05-06 season
36” rain
Thru Dec. 2006
6.01” rain
Total 06-07 season
15” rain
Thru Dec. 2007
6.22” rain
Total 07-08 season
14.68” rain
Thru Dec. 2008
3.91” rain
Total 08-09 season
13.43” rain
Thru Dec. 2009
5.16” rain
Total 09-10 season
31” rain
Thru Dec. 2010
13.6” rain
Total 10-11 season
34.15” rain
Thru Dec. 2011
4.36” rain
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The general vintage story in 2011 in our area was moderate weather, good moisture and a long season. Summer days were  perfect in the low 90's, the season started on time with little frost damage and high humidity. Way warmer then Sonoma County. Everything looked good for a long, moderate season. Then the rain happened, not a whole lot but twice as much as is safe. Unharvested whites and early season reds took a beating and lingering humidity had lots of people spraying to protect against rot. But, what is done is done, and though it is a little too early to look into the crystal ball, we need a blog post, so here are some tasting notes after a month or so in barrel. Most of us probably feel pretty good about the wines, but we can predict that VA (volatile acidity) will be generally high this year (always is after rain). From other reports the long season still required plenty of acidulation in non-Costal regions and California Concentrate ran out of concentrates early - guys were buying Petite Sirah concentrate by the semi truck early. We utilized a wide range of fermentation styles and feel that the varietal typicity is pretty good this year, which is important for those of us that do not blend much. All in all, a trying year that will probably see mixed results - the best learning experience possible.

First round of topping
Montepulciano – From Tracy Hills near Stockton. Much lighter than last year though harvested way later. Plum and strawberry core, nice little coffee touch unlike last year’s heavy espresso blast, some earthy tannin, touch of cinnamon. Nice balance in a medium weight package, like Malbec lite. Last year’s was very big, this is nimble. Montepulciano seems to do well here – we need to see how well this can grow in Lake County.

Barbera (estate) – Harvested in early November, the Barbera this year was a real nailbiter. Lots of bunch rot to remove, but also lots of shatter and irregular set that left the crop quite light and somewhat resistant to rot. Happy to say the first thing that one notices is acid – nice firm acid structure. Solid 3.3pH range. Purpley plum at first then a nice crushed raspberry lightness – this is already showing some range and depth, not in the come-hither sense of the 2009 but a more bass-heavy modern Italian element. Some pomegranate, bay leaf and dustiness and a hint of that Lake County smokiness. I would almost swear there is some herbal character and mintiness at the moment not seen before.



Nebbiolo in Dunigan
Sangiovese #1 – Bill Ham’s Dancing Dogs vineyard in Lake County. Brunello clone, sloping hillside acre. Sangiovese always has that anthocyanic red food coloring wall on the palate at first, like good clean blood with sweet and sour red candy – maybe like bloody Grenache. Not too much prediction here because Sangiovese seems to radically change itself at first racking. This half of the Sangiovese was fermented very hot and hard. Nice tannin, touch of classic astringency that Sangiovese should always have as a thin-skinned grape living tough and hard. More fruit than expected...

Sangiovese #2 – A new source for us while ours grows. This is Wild Diamond Vineyard outside of Hidden Valley, old clone 02 at what, 2500 feet? This ferment was low and slow to complement the above and build complexity. Guess what? Didn’t turn out as expected. Big round structure, not much fruit (this was a big rain victim), very undefined and amorphous. We will see…

Primitivo (estate) – though some of the “early season” grapes were huge loosers due to the rain, a few benefitted. The Primitivo may very well be the winner. Extended hangtime well into mid October, good acid, moderate alcohol. No bunch rot at all, very little bird damage. Every year ours just gets better. Has the earthy red fruit of the 2009. A touch too sweet but hopefully that will rectify itself – it did get a clean 14-day fermentation. Often a good amount of sugar hangs up in the shriveled berries Zinfandel is famous for, then when you press them the press wine can surprise with sweetness. Hopefully it finishes fermenting when you mix it, sometimes not. A bit flat at the moment but typically seems to open up in May with the first gentle racking. Minerality is the goal in this one. Feeling good about this  but it is quite fragile at the moment. How far to push these things without sulfur (we like to go until June) is the biggest question and risk.

Nebbiolo – Nova Vineyard in Yolo county, clones FPS 4,6, and 11. This looked very very nice with the moderate weather and fog in Yolo this year. 16-day fermentation, hand punched, part of it split out to ferment hot, the other half low and slow.  Young Nebbiolo is really unattractive if you are going for a dry, serious one.  Tannic, good texture, ill-defined fruit that will appear (hopefully) and define itself in one year. Going the Burgundy route this will likely go one year before racking. Really want to force the reductive aspect here.

Cab Franc – Again from Nova Vineyard in Yolo. 2 clones, one is the structure clone, the other the fruit clone, hand punched, fermented fast and hard, 9–day fermentation, peaking at 92 degrees.  Mmmm, green peppercorn, black pepper, cassis with a velvet ribbon tied around its waist. Winemakers have mega-boners for this stuff. Great structure, built as a skeleton on which to hang….

Carmener̩/Petite Verdot РFrom Nova also. The Petite Verdot was saigneed off to create one barrel of Port at 10 brix and then the rest was added to the Carmenere, which yield half a ton from 330 vines. Black and red suede smelling like Oregon ferns and wet loamy soil with pickled green peppercorn Рthe kind I used to make wine sauce for hangar steaks. Low acid, super mouth filling and coating with stewed blue and blackberry. Has tannin but already well polymerized and adding full texture without brash grip. Hoping to add to the above Franc at first racking. Totally new world-ish, but totally orgasmic.
Nebbiolo fermenting

Aglianico (estate) – The greatest challenge every year. Nothing has ever looked quite so good all year – perfect crop load, perfect canopy, perfectly thinned and just a touch of drip. So why the hell does it taste totally different than last year? Last year was red fruit, coffee and some fennel, very earthy. This year it is Bordeauxy ruby and kinda gravelly red fruit with high tones, no coffee, no fennel but seems to be going in that direction. Good grip, moderate acid, harvested November 4th.  Developing very strangely at the moment, recalling the 2006. Again, every year is different with this one. And this one is quite fragile at the moment also.

Dolcetto (estate) – Brutalized by the rain and lazy princess pickers, this was our biggest loser, dropping to the low side of 12% alcohol and picking up about 40% water weight. No real fruit to speak of but well balanced, dry, and like Pabst I can drink it all night and go to work early.

Refosco – In keeping with the general vintage, this is a lighter version but it is developing its classic anise and licorice flavors with a pretty violet tonality. A bit of dirty Petite Sirah style tannin as always. We may even produce 40 cases this year. Incidentally, we will have our first estate Refosco harvest in 2012, but it is such a light cropper we may need to combine it with Nova’s to get a barrel.

Petite Verdot port – This will probably be combined with a barrel of 2010 Dolcetto Port from last year. Excited but always wait one year before guessing while the alcohol is raw…

Greco – Bitter almond with a lemon/orange oil type thing. Greco tastes like a dark white, kind of brooding, mineral, some saline. Much to learn with this one.

Muscat – Two types, about 60% Giallo harvested at 23 brix to get some structure and anti-flab core and then 40% Canelli at 25 brix for the florals and bombastic fruit. Quite restrained this year, potentially a semi-serious Muscat at 1% residual. It is so hard to get a structural Muscat - future blending experiments may be necessary. Unlike some of the other wines this one is bomb proof – 5 days in a container with air exposure and rock solid – a good feeling.