Monday, October 04, 2010

Will an unusually cool California summer result in more balanced, lower-alcohol wines?

“If conditions continue, we'll be harvesting into November”, recently declared David Beckstoffer, president of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

While many parts of the U.S. experienced a scorching summer season this year, Napa and Sonoma had the second coldest July in 50 years. Wine growers like to use degree days, measuring accumulated degrees above 50 degrees during the summer season, and so Oakville, at the heart of Napa Valley, has typically 2,700 degree days. But this year, until the recent heat wave, it was at 2,300. In Paso Robles, it's at 2,200, compared to a typical value of 3,000.

Harvesting so late is going to be risky for winegrowers because any rain in October may worsen the threat of mildew that already exists due to persistent caostal fog and cool temperatures. However, more time on the vine can result in better fruit quality.

“The fruit flavors are very strong,” says Larry Hyde of Hyde Vineyards in the Carneros region. “The stuff that makes fruit taste fruity, compounds like esters and ketones, are sensitive to hot weather and tend to be vaporized in the heat of a warm season. But we're finding great fruit flavors in all varieties, and high acidity.”

“2005 was an odd year like this with a late harvest,” explains Andy Peay, winemaker at Peay Vineyards in this article, “It was kind of a lesson to winemakers. People who were used to making these big, bold, high-alcohol wines ended up producing some of the most elegant, balanced, beautiful wines they'd ever made. You just have to take care. Some of our best vintages came out of years like this.”

Grapes should be less ripe this year, which means that less sugar will be converted into alcohol. I think this is good news: we should see more wines with lower alcohol levels as well as higher acidity. I am also looking forward to finding those that are going to show additional balance and elegance.

More on the 2010 California harvest:
•  California's late grape harvest of 2010: What it could mean
•  Grapegrowers anticipate a late - but great - 2010 harvest
•  Three California Winemakers Discuss the Difficult, Possibly Disastrous 2010 Vintage

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