The 2009 vintage in Napa Valley is shaping up with some promise. It's also presenting challenges for grapegrowers and winemakers, as we have had unusual patterns of ripening. Some grapes in certain areas are maturing very quickly, while another variety growing right alongside might flatten out on its maturing curve and fall behind- when it was ahead to start with.
That coincides with the way budbreak, bloom and verasion happened with certain varieties in certain areas this year. Some varieties were rushing through those three steps very evenly and very quickly, and other varieties were taking longer, so we are seeing that carry through in the ripening patterns. So this year, making excellent wine will depend on making good picking decisions. Here's what's going on with the vineyards and wines I deal with:
Sauvignon Blanc: Napa/Carneros
For Selene Wines, we harvested 11 tons of Sauvignon Blanc from Hyde Vineyards on Sept. 3. This is all Musqué Sauvignon Blanc that Larry Hyde planted around 1994. The tonnage was a little under average, but not as small as the 2008 vintage. The flavors and acids were really good, while the sugars were moderate, under 24 brix.
I make all of my wines, and most of my clients' wines, at Laird Family Estate. There are many benefits of using a custom-crush facility. One of the advantages of custom-crush facilities is access to various types and sizes of equipment. If you need a big press for whole-cluster whites, you have a big press. Likewise if you need a small press for your small-lot reds, they have that too. If we had our own facility, we would probably only have a small press, which means we would have to do 4 or 5 press loads of Sauvignon Blanc, and it would probably take 16 hours. That's not good for the grapes or the people working in the cellar.
The Sauvignon Blanc fermented completely dry in barrels after about 3 weeks. Right now it's in 21 stainless-steel barrels and 6 French oak barrels (St. Martin, Seguin Moreau and Nadalie). Now we will start weekly stirrings of the lees.
For the Sauvignon Blanc, I used three different yeasts this year, which I'm keeping separate by barrels. One is a saccharomyces strain for barrel fermentations, another is a saccharomyces strain for Sauvignon Blanc, and the third is a mixed culture of two non-saccharomyces strains and a saccharomyces strain. The thinking behind that is that a mix will add depth and complexity to the resulting wine.
So far I'm happy with all three of them. It will be interesting to see how they develop in the barrel. The reason for the different yeasts and barrels is to help build depth and complexity into a single-vineyard, single-selection wine. This will give me more blending options.
St. Helena: Bressler Vineyards
I've been making wine for Bob and Stacey Bressler since their first vintage back in 2000. They have an estate Cabernet vineyard planted in 1986, along with Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc that in 2001 were grafted onto rootstock planted in 1999.
Their Merlot didn't set a big crop this year; the Cabernet Franc looks better. The Merlot was running ahead in terms of maturity, but the Cabernet Franc has since caught up. We've been picking both today. Petite Verdot, which looks good, will be next week. The Cabernet Sauvignon is a couple weeks away; it looks a little bit light, cropwise, but the vines are in good shape.
Calistoga: Frediani Vineyards
Selene has been getting fruit from Frediani since 1997, starting with Merlot, and in 2002 we were able to get Cabernet Franc.
The Cabernet Franc caught up and passed the Merlot, with good numbers and great flavors. We will be picking it on Friday, Sept. 25. We took a look at the Merlot yesterday to see if we are going to pick it with the Franc or wait. The back-and-forth weather during spring and during bloom caused an uneven set in the Merlot. That might be causing the ripening process to slow, as it's not linear. It's flattened out quite a bit.
I'll keep you posted on how things go Friday and over the weekend!
Lowry Sweney — Los Angeles, CA — September 29, 2009 12:35am ET
Delia Viader — Deer Park, CA USA — September 30, 2009 7:38pm ET
Mia Klein — Napa, CA, USA — September 30, 2009 8:06pm ET
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