Their shrill barking woke me from whatever dream I was having. A pack of coyotes was having a debate in the vineyard outside my window. In my sleepy stupor I tried, but could not remember the day of the week. It sounded like dozens of them, but it was probably just a few being particularly rambunctious. Suddenly the report of a rifle echoed sharply across the valley and the coyotes were silent. Just a few hundred yards from our house, in the other direction, the first crew of cooks were arriving for work at The French Laundry. Such is life in Yountville during harvest. There is this incredible mixture of nature and urban sophistication, which only intertwines so completely in the Napa Valley. The reason I could not remember the day was simple: during harvest all days are the same. There are no regular patterns, hours or life. It’s exhausting, stressful and the best thing that happens to you every year.
So what does this vintage mean to us? It means another debate with Mother Nature, much like the coyotes outside my window had last night. As winemakers we all bark at the weather, but in reality we live within it and in the end treasure what we have been given each and every year. Like a parent we don’t have a favorite child, but revel in their differences and the memories of their unique strong and weak points. The critics will give this harvest a rating, but numbers have no soul and harvests, like all things in nature, do.
So what should you expect from a wine or from a vintage? I think you should expect personality. Those who rank vintages by number in the modern era miss the fundamental character of wine and truly do not understand wine itself. The question should never be what is the greatest vintage of this wine can I have with my dinner tonight, but should be what vintage will taste the best with my dinner tonight. The disaster vintages of days past are no more due to the dramatic advances in enology and viticulture over the last decades. On top of it we live in the Napa Valley where, let’s face it, the weather is never really that bad. The ranges of vintages today runs more from producing earlier or later maturing wines and from bigger or more elegant styles. It’s a fact of the matter in the Napa Valley an overly hot vintage has a more negative impact on wine quality than ones that are overly cool.
It often strikes me that critics want all vintages to be the same. I cannot think of anything more boring: or unnatural. Tomorrow morning at 4 a.m. we start picking our Talcott Vineyard Cabernet Franc in St. Helena. It will make a wine different from last year and from the one it will make the next. I would not have it any other way.