Balancing the 2010 Northern California Wine Vintage

Balance I had the chance to meet with two pretty impressive wine minds this morning and an interesting topic emerged: How will the wine media in America portray the 2010 harvest/vintage in California/Napa/Sonoma?

Will they take the proper perspective, talk to numerous vintners and growers, take account of the different pace of ripenng for different varieties and give a balanced perspective?

Or will they undertake to paint with a brush so broad that upon speaking with one grower who described a difficult time or after looking only at one variety in one region or after tasting 4 two-month old barrel samples that don't provide enough power decide the entire vintage is a bust?

This is a critical issue for a number of reasons.

1. Important trade buyers take their cues from the top wine media.

2. Large media outlets without on-staff wine writers often write "harvest stories" based on the conclusions of major wine media

3. Despite the important impact of social media, wine buyers often draw conclusions about entire vintages based on the assessment of major wine media.

4. Producers, retailers and distributors can be mightily hurt by sweeping generalizations about a vintage that don't reflect the character of the wine inventory they hold.

5. Many thousands of jobs are at stake when a vintage is unnecessarily panned.

6. Consumers deserved a balanced assessment of a vintage that doesn't rely on screaming headlines while putting the details in buried paragraphs.

There is a lot at stake.

What I know so far is that many growers experienced both rot and mold in their vineyard as well as sunburn. That's bad. But, as my meeting mates pointed out, many growers in premium growing regions regulatory drop crop, meaning many of the affected grapes became soil nourishment and not wine, leavng fine grapes to be harvested.

I also know that many of the early ripening grapes like Pinot Noir experienced a tremendous set of conditions for slow, even ripening that will result in amazing wines.

I also know that some growers lost their entire crops during the rains last month.

There's also a lot I don't know. In fact, what I do know amounts to a minority of information that I could possess about this year's harvest. And while I'm no reporter, most wine reporters don't yet have much more information that I do.

There is a balance to be struck between the often cheery assessments that wine industry PR types have to offer and the often doom and gloom assessment that many reporters like to engage in.

I know one other thing too. The crop of top wine writers and reporters now writing in America's newspapers, magazines, journals and newsletters are, potentially, the best informed crop of writers we've ever had to give us the skinny on what's up and what's down in the world of wine. They have the tools to undertake a balanced assessment of 2010. And they also have the inclination to deliver that balanced assessment.

4 Responses

  1. John Kelly - November 3, 2010

    Tom – I believe that with the proliferation of information sources available, the days when a wine writer can get away with the kind of sloppy reporting that so hurt sales of vintages like 1998 are behind us. I sincerely hope so.
    We have been extra lucky at our vineyard this year with respect to mildew, sunburn and rot. The Pinot we have made may be the best I have done in my career, and the Syrah and Tannat are showing similar promise, still in fermenter.
    I do have varieties hanging in the field – ripening, but slowly. Looks like we are going to catch a few more lucky breaks in the weather, leading me to expect that I might have similarly impressive results with this fruit once I get it into the barn.
    I’m hardly the only one. This vintage may go down in history as one of unprecedented challenges and lower yields. But if it is remembered by the public as one of poor or even average quality, it will be because of unconsionably (perhaps actionably) substandard journalism.

  2. Christian Miller - November 3, 2010

    A couple more factors to consider:
    1) occasionally the trade buyers are quite content with sweeping negative generalizations about a vintage, if it gives them an easy reason not to buy. The 1998 Napa Cabs were a perfect example, arriving on the retail market in an unsettled economy alongside highly touted 2000 Bordeaux futures.
    2) Napa Cab (and perhaps Sonoma Pinot too now?) dominates the vintage generalizations. This has always been a peeve for people in the Central Coast or Zin specialists.

  3. Greg Baiocchi - November 4, 2010

    One thing for consumers to consider when shopping for 2010 wines in a few years will be that some of the warmer growing regions in the state had cooler more even growing seasons. These regions grow many different varietals and sell wines that would be considered to have value from this vintage from the price to quality perspective. ie – Sierra Foothills, Lodi, Paso Robles to name a few.

  4. Dave Pratt - November 5, 2010

    Too much press is given to vintages. High quality grapes depends on the grower, high quality wines depends on the winemaker and consistency between both is the key. Embrace the season! Compare to other vintages with an open wine bottle and see the influences of the weather. Every year should be different. Enjoy!

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