The wait card for harvest 2008 has been pulled out of the deck for many winemakers.
Hot weather the past few days in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino, with forecasts yet of more to come, has taken away winemakers’ option of waiting to see which way the weather will break and whether to let the grapes hang, in hopes of milder weather, or pick.
Hanging grapes in hot weather runs the risk of raisins and superhigh sugars, along with green, underripened flavors and gritty tannins, and we all know what a can of worms that is today. Some varietals simply can’t take the heat, chief among them Pinot Noir.
Yesterday’s visit with Bob Levy and Martha McClellan Levy, who poured their excellent 2005 and 2006 Levy & McClellan Cabernet during an informal tasting at my office, demonstrated just how fast-paced harvest 2008 is going.
Most but not all of the Merlot for their wine, along with that of Harlan, where Levy is winemaker, and Sloan and Blankiet, where McClellan is winemaker, has been harvested.
Winemakers don’t like to harvest red grapes in August. Psychologically, it just seems too early. But both Levy and McClellan said the flavors are there, the sugars are good, without being high (for the third straight harvest) and despite 2008's bumpy year, they’re happy.
McClellan said the Merlot at her properties was ready “so why go through the sorting of the raisins” if she were to let the grapes hang longer. “We had an early budbreak so the harvest isn’t early,” she explained. Moreover, “when sugars started to climb the physiological development went quickly, and we’re seeing some great flavors and tannins.”
Both winemakers admit 2007 is a tough year to follow since it went rather smoothly, unlike 2008, with spring frosts and several heat spikes, including the current one.
To make great wine in 2008 “you had to be in the vineyard” paying close attention, said Levy.
With more hot weather forecast, it remains a farmer’s year but without the luxury of milder weather and the “wait” card.
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — September 5, 2008 5:56pm ET
Cathy Seghesio — Healdsburg, Ca — September 6, 2008 10:51am ET
Eric P Perramond — Colorado Springs, CO — September 6, 2008 11:35am ET
John Skupny — St. Helena — September 9, 2008 12:54pm ET
Aras Naujokas — Atlanta, GA — September 10, 2008 9:22pm ET
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