The Harvest Ended in Napa/Sonoma this Weekend
First things first: No, "Napa Valley" and "Sonoma County" and the "North Coast" can not together nor separately appropriately be described as singular weather zones. Put another way, grapes grown on the valley floor in the Yountville region of Napa and grapes grown near the top of Spring Mountain in Napa Valley are likely to have experienced differing weather conditions throughout the year. The same can be said for Alexander Valley and the Sonoma/Carneros region.
That said, the harvest in Napa Valley and Sonoma County officially ended with the considerable rain the areas received over the weekend. Any grapes left on the vine here with hopes they might hop up a few more brix are probably mush by now.
Yesterday I drove up and down the valley on Highway 29. Along the way I did see some grapes still hanging on the vine and being pelted with rain. Down the Oak Knoll area and just south of Rutherford one could see those poor little berries hanging low, saturated with water.
The 2010 vintage will go down as a very tough year or growers. The story I heard over and over was this one: Earlier on in the season, as cold weather persisted, growers started to see mold inhabit their bunches in a fairly considerable way. Some sprayed others didn't, most likely in order to keep their organic certification. But both organic and non organic growers also followed the tack of pulling leaves to let air flow through. Unfortunately, just as the growers were finished pulling leaves, the area got a spectacular blast of heat…massive heat. Three or four days of it. This in turn, due to the leaves having been pulled, let to lots of sunburn.
The upshot is a smaller crop than normal. In some cases and in some vineyards it will be a considerably smaller crop.
Quality? We'll have to wait and see. What does seem likely is that many grapes will have been picked at lower brix (lower sugars) than normal in many vineyards. This was a year where you really wanted to be growing grapes at a higher elevation where more sunshine was available earlier in the year.
Will this be another 1989, a generally bad year in the North Coast area of California? I can't say. I'm not close enough to enough growers to get a good indication of the quality of the harvest.
But I think what we can say with some assurance is that this won't be a typical "California" year with big, huge, ripe wines across the board. It's tempting to ask if this is a good thing for those who enjoy more balanced, less exuberant wines. But I won't ask this for the simple reason that even if this is such a year, it won't convince most California growers to pursue more balanced wines in the future. Only a call by the tastemakers (critics, sommeliers, retailers and "Super Core" wine drinkers) can make tht happen.
For another, more informed, take on the end of the Harvest, see Jim Barbour's recent blog post.