Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Harvest starts in California and it looks "normal" again

Hugh Chappelle
Harvest is underway in California, and 2012 appears to be a more "normal" year than the last two.

Quivira winemaker Hugh Chappelle kicked off his harvest by bringing in some Sauvignon Blanc from the winery's estate vineyard in Dry Creek Valley on Monday. I was glad to hear it, because I'm a fan of Quivira's Sauvignon Blanc, which has the vibrancy of California fruit with the restraint of the Loire.

Chappelle spoke with me yesterday about the 2012 vintage so far.

Are you the first to pick in your area?
We're among the very first to pick for still wine. Some people pick early for sparkling for J and Piper Sonoma. I've heard rumors of people pulling off some Dijon Clone Chardonnay on the borders of Russian River Valley. It seems to be just starting to trickle in. 

I know it's early, but how would you characterize the 2012 vintage so far?
There's a huge amount of excitement in the winemaking community over this vintage. The last two have been pretty darn challenging. 2010 had a lot of sunburn and desiccation. 2011 had so much mildew.
This has been an almost ideal growing season. Despite the rainfall being a little low and the water being a little low, the fruit is sizing up very well. I think the wines are shaping up to be very classic.

How did your first grapes look?
The estate fruit we brought in at 22.6 brix with pH of 3.1. Some people would consider that a little on the early side in terms of acid. That's the first of 20 or 30 pickings we'll make for Sauvignon Blanc. We'll pick in increments going up to the higher sugar levels where you can have a little bit more tropical fruit.
That fits our philosophy. We typically like to start snipping off some of our Zin when the fruit's more bright, really bright red fruit with good balance of alcohol and acid. It's shaping up to be a good vintage for winemaking of this philosophy.
Even if you like a bigger style of wine, the hygiene of the fruit is very good news this year.

The last two years have also been small vintages. How does this year look?
This year is looking to be an average or normal yield, if you were doing a 10-year average. The winemakers are happy but also the bean counters are happy.
What's been a tough combination the last 2 years has been to get quality and quantity. This year we can do that.
In '10, people that didn't classify and bulk out ... if you cared about your reputation you had to make some tough decisions about bulking some wine out.

The '10 and '11 vintages aren't even out yet but they're already polarizing in the media. How will '12 compare?

In '10 there was a potential to make some fantastic wines but stylistically they were different. The berries were small, and even if the alcohol is lower, those are going to be some big wines, some tannic wines.
In '11, with the problems with botrytis, they probably won't do well with the critics. There are going to be some lighter style wines.
A lot of people have been clamoring for lower alcohol wines from California. From '11 there will be an abundance of nicely balanced wines of lower alcohol from some of the better producers.
But for wineries, last year was really a tough year. For some of our red varieties, we had to bulk some wine out. Some of the wines that ripened on the early side, those fared really well. But the later-ripening locations were hit really hard.
Even things like Cabernet. I'd never seen botrytis on Cabernet, but last year we saw a little bit on it. It was definitely a tough year and we're in one of the easier growing areas.
In 2012 this is a vintage where you can pick where you want to pick rather than when you have to pick.

Quivira farms biodynamically. Has that made a difference for you the last two years?
We try to let our wines speak for themselves. I don't understand some of the heated statements against biodynamics. All you have to do is go to Europe and see what some of the top wineries are doing. Somebody like Roederer is doing it despite the challenges of their climate, and not because they need to say it's biodynamic to sell their wine.
It's really quite easy to do and I don't understand the posturing and shouting over it. Let the wines speak for themselves. We're ultimately driven by the quality of the grapes we bring in.
The philosophy from our owner down to me, we really believe in organic farming, and the biodynamic practices work for us. Sure, there are some quirky practices, but on the whole it works. You have to spend more time in the vineyard and especially in a year like '10 or '11 that helps a lot.

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Anonymous said...

This upcoming harvest looks to be the best in my 12 years of growing grape and making wine. I anticipate the '12 vintage to surpass the epic 2007 season. If I were an author usiing my vast imagination, I'm not sure I could script a better scenero. Visit the Russian River Valley and find out for yourself. Cheers

Michael Donohue said...

Like most everyone else I have some issues with Biodynamics (starting with the facts that Steiner was never a farmer and that he was keen on crop rotation which does not permit a 'mature' vineyard (not to open the old vine debate but I saw recently that a certain Mr. Beckstoffer feels a vine only has a productive life span of 20 years))but when people like Leflaive and Leroy believe it works (and they are the ones with the million dollar reputations) then it's good enough for me. I hope the '12 crop is large enough to quell the incessant talk of price increases.