For the past few weeks, I've been interviewing Napa winemakers about the 2007 Cabernet vintage, which I think is one of California's finest ever.
Funny thing is, most winemakers I've talked to disagree. Sure 2007 is great, but many think 2008 is superior.
While 2007 came off without a hitch, with a long, even growing season, producing an abundance of rich, opulent, well-proportioned and concentrated wines, many winemakers say their 2008s are even more concentrated, with greater depth, richness, and so on.
I may as well add that a few are chirping that 2009 will be a winner, too.
That is all good news, of course, since we Cabernet drinkers only want the best. Moreover, winemakers are far more candid about their kiting vintages than they used to be. One would expect these farmer types to see silver linings in gray clouds.
The biggest difference between the three years is that in 2008, Napa suffered the same frost and fire woes that plagued many areas of the state that year. The frost cut the crop by significant levels, and when nature thins, it's often a positive. 2009 was a challenging year, too, with some heavy October rains hitting the tail end of the harvest. Wineries can easily declassify the lesser-quality lots of wine and put their best wines forward.
The smaller crop in 2008 may well be a blessing too, since there is still an oversupply of wine in the market and inventories for many producers are still significant. Many here in wine country don't think the Great Recession has really hit bottom for vintners. This fall may be the toughest stretch, I'm told.
As California goes, so goes the nation. Until California begins a real recovery, it puts pressure on all in wine, since Californians drink the most California wine. The world's eighth-largest economy still has fiscal woes topped by government gridlock and a high unemployment level.
We haven't seen significant price reductions for the top Cabernets. There are still many wines priced at well over $100 a bottle. The main reason is that there is not that much great Napa Cabernet made, so producers are betting demand will support their prices. This fall should test that reasoning.