Winemakers in Northern California are finally catching their breath as harvest 2012 winds to a finish. In the mood to kick back, and perhaps celebrate a little, winemakers Adam Lee of Siduri and Mike Officer of Carlisle had a long lunch last week at Stark's Steakhouse in Sonoma County and let me tag along.
Both brought red Burgundies— Lee opened Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Grèves Vigne de l'Enfant Jésus 2008 and Officer the Jerome Chezeaux Vosne-Romanée Les Suchots 2009—while I fished out a 2001 Kathryn Kennedy Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon from the cellar.
For most of the meal, we talked about everything but harvest and the 2012 vintage, but we finally got around to it. "It was the most difficult easy vintage I ever had," Officer said. "Bingo," Lee added in agreement. The biggest issue was the size of the crop, which was unexpectedly large. "Pinot across the board in Sonoma County, the yields were off the charts," Lee said.
Many wineries ran out of tank space. We had each heard stories about grapes left to over-ripen in some vineyards because there was no space in the winery. Also, a short heat spell in the first week of October sent sugars soaring, but in some cases the flavors weren't fully developed. That could be an issue to watch as the 2012s mature.
The growing season, however, didn't leave much more to complain about. It was more or less ideal, a Goldilocks year: not too hot, not too cold, just the right amount of sun and fog. When more than an inch of rain hit Northern California early last week, 95 percent of the grapes were already in the barn.
"The Achilles' heel of the vintage is the yields. I worry that it could be a 1997. It was a big crop and the fruit got ripe, but in the end how well did the wines hold up?" Officer wondered.
Predicting the quality of a vintage at this early stage is tricky. Officer said his 2011 Zinfandels were disappointing at first taste last year, but he now believes they are the best wines he has ever made.
"It's easy to decide the bad years," Lee said, "but deciding whether a vintage is good from very good is tough. I think we agree it's at least a very good year, but we don't know if it's an excellent year."
Why were they being so cautious when most winemakers are waxing poetic about 2012, I asked them? They shrugged.
"People are just happy," Officer said, "that it's not 2010 and 2011 all over again."
So true. California certainly was due.