A powerful storm drenched Northern California over the weekend, putting an exclamation point on a very strange harvest.
Winemakers worked frantically last week to harvest as many grapes as possible in anticipation of the weekend rain, and rain it did, sometimes quite heavily. More than 2 inches fell in Napa, and closer to 3 in areas such as Mendocino and Sonoma, which are closer to the ocean.
Chuck Wagner of Caymus said that, last Thursday, Caymus processed more grapes in a single day than at any previous time he could remember. Still, the Napa Valley vintner, finishing his 38th harvest, estimated that about 50 to 60 percent of the Cabernet he hoped to pick was still on the vine.
Those who beat the storm are excited about quality. "Fantastic" is one word I've heard from several vintners to describe the quality. Nicolas Morlet, winemaker at Peter Michael, said that the winery's Sonoma Coast Pinot was picked in great condition and that all of the red grapes grown at the estate were off the vine before the storm.
For many winemakers, such as Wagner, there is little to do but wait and hope. If warm weather returns in the next two weeks, Wagner said he would still pick Cabernet based on quality from vineyard to vineyard.
You'll hear many war stories about vintage 2010. With the condensed harvest and many grapes coming in at once, tank space at many wineries is at a premium. With the cool weather, the grapes' sugar levels didn't get as high as they have in recent vintages, which means lower alcohol levels. The grapes developed good flavors, though, winemakers said, so the wines will be different, as they should be.
Vintages all have different personalities. But as one winemaker told me, most wineries could still make a style of wine they like, even with the challenge of the weather.
We can only hope quality is good. One thing you won't hear: winemakers in Northern California saying they'd like another harvest like 2010. They may like the results, but it was just too close to disaster for comfort.
Thomas Schaal — CA — October 26, 2010 2:40am ET
Jamie Sherman — Sacramento — October 26, 2010 12:44pm ET
Joseph S Barrera — Cazadero, CA — October 26, 2010 2:24pm ET
Sachin Singh — New York, NY — October 27, 2010 10:06pm ET
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