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Some Rotten Luck in California

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Oct 18, 2006 2:29pm ET

Most years, if you’re a farmer or winegrower or winemaker in California, you bet on the weather coming through.

Most of the time the weather delivers, as in the right mix of sunshine and dryness.

But this year is one of those years where the odds-makers would have handicapped this harvest as too close for comfort.

I’ve heard all kinds of conflicting reports. A few winemakers are thrilled by harvest 2006. Others say flatly that it’s a very mixed year.

The past few days, since I’ve been back in Napa and talking to more winemakers, the stories of woe focused on Sonoma County Chardonnay and some Napa Valley reds, such as Cabernet and Merlot.

Sonoma County is the most important Chardonnay-producing region in the state. Reports there of an unusually late season and severe rot problems will be definite factors in wine volume and likely quality.

In Napa Valley, it’s been cool, too, and many vineyards that are still hanging Cabernet and Merlot are starting to show signs of bunch rot, botrytis and other grape maladies.

I’ve seen some clusters where the berries are literally falling off the stems.

I’m headed to San Francisco on Thursday and will meet with many winemakers at the California Wine Experience.

The Napa Valley Vintners are holding a media event in San Francisco on Thursday, with a host of vintners who will share their insights and perspectives on harvest 2006. They’re even bringing along samples of their infant wines.

I’m curious about their take on the vintage.

Mary Constant
Calistoga —  October 18, 2006 7:56pm ET
Mr. Laube, I hope that you appreciate the fact that a lot of wineries/grape growers are thrilled with the 2006 vintage and that you do not dismiss this vintage as a poor one! It spoils the fun for those of us who will be making great wine from this vintage. Better yet ,come on up and see for yourself!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  October 18, 2006 8:05pm ET
Mary, I'm sure some people made great wines, and I always wait to taste the wines before passing judgment. But I don't think the vintage, as a whole, will go down as a great one across the board. We'll see.
Mark Zukowski
Knights Valley, CA —  October 18, 2006 9:47pm ET
James, I'm a grower in Knights Valley and I've seen no evidence of bunch rot, botrytis, etc. on my Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Perhaps it's because Knights Valley is a warmer growing region with less fog than other regions. I'm curious to know where you made your observations - valley floor, hillside, mountain, specific part of Napa Valley or across the board?
Mary Constant
Calistoga —  October 18, 2006 10:17pm ET
Mr. Laube, You do not think that heading your blog ROTTON LUCK IN CALIFORNIA is passing judgment????
Jesse Calderon
October 19, 2006 12:45am ET
This is kind of off topic but Mary's question reminded me of something that I have been curious about.

James, I was wondering how the WS staff arrives at a vintage rating? For example, 2002 received a 93 rating for Napa Cabernet. However, if you look at individual wine ratings, 2002 has more Napa cabs rated 95 points or higher than any recent vintage except for 1997. That includes 1999 and 2001 which received Napa cab vintage ratings of 97 and 93 respectively.

If you just look at the number of top rated cabs from Napa in 2002 it seems like the vintage should be rated higher. Just curious... thanks!
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  October 19, 2006 2:29am ET
I visited Sonoma/Napa 9.28-10.02 and noted that whites were still coming in that last day in Sonoma. Is that late? Also, noted that some Cab vineyds in Rutherford/Oakville picked but most still hanging and I did notice a very few w/what I thought was some kind of rot/sunburn. Overall, though most in Napa looked and tasted great(very limited experience in this regard). Opus, Eisele Vineyard(big gnarly vines w/full grapes), Darioush. I also noticed a flurry of activity and deliveries(red grapes) around the Oakville Crossroads and South of there as I headed out of town towards Sacramento. A tasting rm mgr mentioned that many would pick that wk for fear of rain. How did it finish up or are some still picking? One other personal comparison: 2004 seemed much warmer and alot earlier. I was there much earlier(end Aug start Sept). They were finished w/ Wht and some Reds were already coming in around Napa (Frog's Lp, etc). Chilly 2006. I was staying on Ramal Rd Carneros. One day I think it stayed below 72 the whole day and down into the 40s at night into the AM. Contrast that to the early season 110s.
Larry Schaffer
Central Coast —  October 19, 2006 10:46am ET
Jim,There is no doubt that this year will go down as a mixed bag. Down here on the Central Coast, we have experienced both the good and the bad. Our pinot looks AWESOME - unbelievable color, great aromatics during fermentation, minimal rot. Our whites and the whites of others, especially chardonnay, have been hard hit by all kinds of rot.We still have quite a bit of fruit hanging, mainly rhone red varietals, and we're hoping for one last blast of heat to ensure that they ripen as they should. The canopies in most of our locations are still alive and therefore we have hope that we can keep this thing going for another month or so if need be . . .I'm not sure why Mary took offense to the headline - you are simply reporting what you and others have seen and heard - pure and simple. Keep up the great work!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  October 19, 2006 11:57am ET
Larry, thanks for the view from your vineyards. Hope you get that last blast of heat!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  October 19, 2006 12:02pm ET
Mark, thanks for your comments about Knights Valley. The Chardonnay I referred to is in Sonoma County and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat has a good story about that, which you can read online. The Cabernet and Merlot I mentioned were mostly on the Napa Valley floor. Not sure if they'll get picked or made into wine, but from those I talked with, this level of rot is highly unusual. I also know many vintners are thrilled by their crops. Overall, the impression I get is that this will be a highly mixed year.
Mary Constant
Calistoga —  October 19, 2006 12:34pm ET
I think that the headline "Rotten luck in California" sounded too "the glass is half empty" to me.

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