As I write this in early November, Oregon winemakers have just harvested the last of the latest-ripening Pinot Noir grapes ever. Pennsylvania winemakers are wondering what to do with newly fermented Vidal that didn’t reach 9% alcohol. Northern California winemakers are hoping that none of the botrytis they saw in their damp vineyards will be smelled in their wines.
In other words, it was a vintage rich with challenges. The weather was wild from February through October, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Both growers and winemakers needed to use all the tools in their kits to deliver healthy grapes and make good, sound wines in 2011.
The media declared vintage disasters one day, and miraculous recoveries the next, while winemakers and marketers tried to calm the writers with reassurances that the wines that were made will be outstanding in quality, of course. I particularly liked a news release this week from the Napa Valley Vintners that spun the crush of 2011 as “exciting.”
“Like the 2011 World Series, we had our ups and downs, and finally pulled it out. This was one of our most exciting harvests ever!” said Cain Vineyards’ winemaker and general manager Chris Howell in an email to the media.
Learn under pressure
It would be easy to say Howell was simply putting a good spin on bad news, but when you think about it, he’s right. It is exciting in any sport or job to face an unprecedented challenge. This is what gets the adrenaline flowing, and once it is, people have the chance to do their best work and prove to themselves and their colleagues how well they can work under pressure.
Growers and winemakers reacted to the pressure by trying new methods and hustling like crazy to harvest and crush during the sunny breaks in the weather. In Northern California, some growers skipped their usual practice of dropping fruit in early summer to concentrate the flavors in the remaining clusters, because yields looked low, and instead dropped fruit a day before harvest to keep clusters with bunch rot from getting to the crush pad.
We’ve heard that more winemakers than ever added oak products to their musts at the crush pad, hoping to mask any vegetal flavors that might come along with the generally lower ripeness levels. Now that the harvest season is over, it’s time to review and recover. Winemakers will soon know how well these tactics worked, as fermentations and malolactic conversions finish and they can taste the new wines.
Share at the Unified Symposium
An outstanding venue for review is the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento Jan. 24 to 26. Organizers of the massive event hope that growers and winemakers bring all their experiences to Sacramento and share them with their peers. The event’s new program chairman, Nick Frey, whose regular job is presiding over the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, emphasized to Wines & Vines
that the educational sessions or seminars during Unified Symposium are designed for cross-fertilization.
Frey’s program committee sought out speakers from different regions and different professions this year, to broaden the learning opportunities during the two days of sessions that accompany the giant trade show, which is the centerpiece of the Unified. With seemingly unprecedented bouts of extreme weather across North America, winegrowers from different regions may be of more help to each other than ever before.
If you are waffling about going to the Unified Symposium, please read Andrew Adams’ preview of the event’s many sessions on pages 24 and 25 and it will be an easy decision: pay your money and go. Just look at this partial list of session titles for the first seminar day, Jan. 24, and you’ll see how relevant and useful the program is:
• 9 a.m. – noon, General Session: Quality Grapes and Wine in a Challenging Climate
• 1:30 – 3 p.m., Grapegrowing: Managing Your Vineyards under Adverse Weather Conditions
• 1:30 - 3 p.m., Winemaking: Winemaking in the Presence of Unusual Grape Maturity
• 1:30 – 3 p.m., Marketing/Public Relations: How to Market each Vintage – Despite the Weather
Our team at Wines & Vines
thinks the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium is the most valuable wine industry event in North America, and well worth the cost of registration. Wines & Vines
has exhibited since the beginning in 1995. Please go to unifiedsymposium.org
for the details. We hope to see you there.