…Or, All Signs Point to A Great Vintage in Napa Valley (with a little luck and a lot of work)
The following is a grapegrowing/winemaking update from our winemaker Richard Sowalsky:
Frequently, people will ask how a vintage year is shaping up. This question can be answered quite matter-of-factly, citing comparative statistics on weather, vine growth, fruit development and the like. However, I know full well that this is not what people want to hear. Indeed, what is really being queried is a prognostication of future wine quality based on what I have observed to date in the growing season. Essentially, this could be likened to asking a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy if her daughter will be a surgeon or an artist – the genetics and potential environment (nature and nurture) will set the stage for success, but other more fluid environmental factors will shape the outcome over time. Fortunately for me, grapevines are somewhat more predictable and, with experience, I am able to “guess-timate” a final wine quality outcome, assuming that natural conditions and other factors affecting the environment of the vine do not throw me (and the grapes) a curveball – something which is never guaranteed.
Let’s take the 2012 growing season in Napa Valley. The year so far has been characterized by low-normal rainfall, slightly above average temperatures (although fluctuating between warmer and cooler periods quite frequently) and abundant sunshine as compared to the past several years. This has resulted in balanced vine growth and very healthy leaf canopies, setting the stage for excellent fruit development. Small clusters bearing a moderate number of below-average sized berries further suggests a high potential for excellence. However, the growing season began late, and erratic weather during bloom resulted in poor set of grape flowers into berry fruit in some varieties, as well as a range in fruit “age” amongst clusters in other varieties.
In short, we’ve so far been quite lucky this season, but must take into account all of the quirks that we have encountered as well as any foreseeable circumstances we might experience between now and harvest in order to reap the best that our Estate vineyards have to offer. This requires a lot of intensive effort in the vineyard, all of which is timed to particular milestones in the growing season. For example, while green leaves are essential for conversion of sunlight into sugars that nourish vines and provide the building blocks for all of the taste, flavor, aroma, mouthfeel and color compounds which will ultimately end up in the wine glass, an abundance of leaves in the wrong location on the vine can shade fruit, diminishing quality through poor color in red wines, underripe flavors, bitter tannins, excessive tartness and increased disease incidence. Yuck! Yet, removal of too many of these excessive leaves at the incorrect time can lead to sunburned fruit (in a warmer year and with certain positioning of the vines within a block) and delayed ripening (in a cooler year). Double yuck! So, if we remove specific leaves at the correct time based on the individual characteristics of the vineyard block, then we properly hedge our bets against future environmental impacts (such as excessively cool, hot or wet weather later in the season) and my prediction of wine quality based on the overall year to date becomes more accurate.
The fruit on each shoot of the vine is “fed” by the leaves on its individual shoot. If there are too few leaves or too many grapes (it’s all relative), the grapes will never be perfect. And, until we learn how to stick new leaves onto a shoot, we’ll have to solve this dilemma by removing fruit. Yes, that profitable fruit that could become wine. On the ground. Gone for good. Bye-bye. Only, this fruit (and the remaining fruit, for that matter) would never have become very good wine (and certainly not excellent wine) if we did not cut some off as needed. But here’s the rub – if the clusters are removed too soon, the berries on the remaining clusters will have a tendency to swell up, making the finished wine less concentrated. And, if they’re removed too late, the remaining older leaves will have divvied up their resources already and not be of as much help as optimal to the clusters that remain. Again timing of this activity is key and, if performed perfectly, then the results from the growing season will be much more predictable based on the seasonal conditions, and wine quality predictions will be more precise.
Often, when the grape flower bloom and set is prolonged, there will be grapes of different maturities within a vine row, and even within the same cluster. This situation obviously makes it difficult to assess “perfect ripeness” which is so essential for finished wine quality. There are typically two times of year when this fruit maturity disparity can be corrected – immediately after set (when the berries of differing “ages” will be different sizes) and at veraison, the time during which berry softening and color change occur (and will occur sooner in the berries that set earlier in the season). As mentioned previously, if we decide to even out the crop by removing fruit showing delayed development after set, the remaining berries can swell up, diluting the future wine. More troubling, in warmer years some of the lagging younger fruit can “catch up,” meaning that there is a possibility of both losing money (through clusters cut off without need) and experiencing diminished wine quality. Instead, we don’t address this situation at this time, but rather wait until veraison to touch up the blocks and even out maturity by dropping clusters that are slow to soften and change color. And, because veraison can be fairly quick, this requires a lot of diligence in the vineyard with respect to timing. Another expensive finicky crop grooming that is critical to ensure I’ve got the perfect ingredients for my winemaking.
Wine is an amazing, living beverage, and thus there’s no way for me to be able to definitively answer the question of the ultimate quality of a perfectly-aged wine based on how grapes have developed at the mid-point in any given growing season. However, through judicious application of viticultural prestidigitation (grounded in science, much like magic), I can think forward from a given point in time of the growing season to attempt to predict final wine quality, barring extraordinary seasonal circumstances. Since we’re doing everything right in a beautiful growing season to date, I will go out on a limb to predict phenomenal wines from 2012!
Posted by Colleen | Wine News | Posted on July 11th, 2012
The Business Journal held its North Bay Facilities Managers Recognition Awards luncheon and we are pleased to announce that our facility manager, Jason Duval, won! We are so thankful to have Jason as part of the Clos Pegase team. From fixing a running facet to replacing our wine tank’s cooling system, Jason is an invaluable asset to Clos Pegase and keeps the winery running smoothly. Jason’s innovation, dedication and energy make him the perfect recipient for this award.
Posted by Colleen | Wine News | Posted on July 10th, 2012
Richard is hitting the road again for a quick trip during the busy bottling schedule of the summer. Southern California, we hope you’re ready!
If you’re in or around Orange County, we woud love for you to join Richard at Tamarind of London for an exquisite dinner paired with Clos Pegase Wines.
Newport Beach, CA
July 18, 2012, 6:00pm
3-Course Dinner at Tamarind of London
For reservations contact:
Tamarind of London
7862 East Coast Highway|Newport Beach, CA 92657