Posted by Adam Lee
I want to express my sympathy in advance for those at Wine Spectator who compile the vintage charts in which they give an overall number rating to each vintage. Unlike 2007, the 2008 vintage will not be a simple vintage to handicap.
Honestly, it hasn’t even been an easy vintage for those of us in the midst of it all to figure out. In many respects, it has been at least two vintages wrapped up in one. The first couple weeks of September were somewhat like a whirlwind. Warmer temperatures, combined with the lower yields due to frost, led to lots of grapes ripening all at the same time. This was especially true in the Russian River Valley. Since our grape sources are spread across the entire West Coast, we were somewhat immune to this onrush of fruit, but we definitely felt its effects.
One of the interesting aspects of this early fruit was that both Brix levels (the measurement of suspended solids in grape juice) and glucose+fructose (the actual measurement of fermentable sugars) were rising incredibly quickly. But the acid levels (as measured by the pH of the juice) were staying quite high. So, the juice was high sugar, high acid.
We then entered a period of much cooler weather lasting a couple of weeks. During this period, the Pinot Noir vines seemingly shut down. Brix numbers actually fell, significantly in a number of spots, while glucose+fructose numbers seemingly held steady or rose only slightly. Most notably, the pH started rising, meaning that the acid was falling in the grapes. So the juice was low sugar, low acid. This is the type of behavior you often see in grapes when the vines have shut down for the season and the leaves are yellowing and falling off. However, this all occurred with green leaves still on the vines.
If that isn’t confusing enough, this phenomenon of falling sugars and falling acids seemed to play itself out primarily in Pinot Noir. For example, at Rosella’s Vineyard, the Pinot Noir stalled out, but the Chardonnay kept on moving. It was ultimately picked at higher Brix and higher glucose+fructose than any of the Pinot Noirs. But it was also picked earlier than all of the Pinots except for one clone. Even in the same variety and same vineyard, we have seen one section stall out while the other kept moving. (This happened with Syrah at the Page-Nord Vineyard.)
Ultimately, we are finding ourselves making almost all of our picking decisions based on fruit quality and integrity. Over and over, Dianna or I have said, “This fruit is ready to be picked” after looking at a section before looking at any numbers. Quite frankly, if you spent a lot of time in the vineyards, you could usually tell what was ready to be picked without even tasting the juice. (We tasted it anyhow.)
Of course, we still have a bit of Pinot Noir in Sonoma County scheduled for picking at the end of this week; all of our Santa Rita Hills fruit is still on the vine, and all of our Oregon Pinot Noir remains unpicked. Plus Sonoma County Syrah, some Napa Syrah, most of the Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah and our Nebbiolo are still hanging around. So the full story has yet to be written.
The real question is: How is this all going to play out in the final wine that will be coming to market in a couple of years? That is, after all, what really matters to most of you.
First off, there’s going to be less wine. As James Laube mentioned in his blog yesterday, the one consistent in this vintage has been small crops. Our 2007 production was down 30 percent from 2006, and it would not surprise me if 2008 is down another 30 percent from 2007.
Second, the difference between decent wine and really good wine may be decided in the winery this year. Given the variability and complicating factors that I mentioned earlier, it is possible to have multiple lots varying in character, style and quality all from the same vineyard. Deciding which lots make the final cut and which are declassified will ultimately play a larger-than-usual part in the ultimate quality of the wine.
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — October 9, 2008 10:15pm ET
Tim Corliss — livermore,ca — October 10, 2008 3:33am ET
Adam Lee — Santa Rosa, CA — October 10, 2008 7:32am ET
Brian Ross — Encino, California — October 11, 2008 12:37am ET
Adam Lee — Santa Rosa, CA — October 12, 2008 8:17am ET
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