You wait all year and know it’s coming, but it always feels like its sneaked up on you. How can it be harvest already? What happened to summer? However, harvest time it is and at Cornerstone we start picking our sauvignon blanc on Tuesday. That realization wakes you up and you start to notice a few leaves on the ground, the shorter and shorter days and a different type of coolness in the evening air. Fall is indeed arriving.
It’s been an unusual growing season, at least that’s the conventional wisdom. In fact, it’s almost like last vintage, which means its been cool by Napa Valley standards. Is this the new “normal”? In my opinion a little cooler is not a bad thing. Cooler vintages give more balanced wines that are more transparent. Wines that clearly show where they came from. The major problem so far with vintage 2011 in Napa is the cool, rainy weather during flowering and set, which dramatically reduced the size of this year’s crop. Our Howell Mountain vineyards escaped this fate as the later flowering up on the mountain meant they missed the early June storms. Oddly our cabernet franc vineyards in St. Helena, Oakville and Carneros ended up with good fruit sets too as they also bloomed late.
So we head into mid-September around two weeks behind normal. That’s really not too bad: as long as the fall rains hold off long enough for everything to ripen. This, of course, is a very big “if”.
I often think there is an over-reaction to these slightly cooler years in Napa. Anyone whose spent time in some of the world’s most famous wine growing regions knows that Napa does not face the weather dangers those growers deal with on a regular basis. We will ripen our grapes. We will make excellent wines. I truly believe that these “cooler” vintages make better wines in the Napa Valley. However, certain critics who define wine quality by girth disagree with me, preferring wines from hot vintages. That formula is simple:
High pH + High Alcohol + High Oak + High Price = High Points
These cooler vintages excite me because of the opportunity they give us to make truly balanced, elegant wines designed to taste their best with food. The formula above gives you wines that taste out well against other wines, but that don’t marry well with food. I don’t like them: I don’t like to drink them, I don’t like to make them and I don’t like to sell them.
It will approach 90 degrees this afternoon. Perfect grape ripening weather. Just like last vintage I know we’re going to make wines that I love. I can’t wait.