December 15, 2011
2011: A Year in Review
2011 on our mountain-top vineyard has been defined by five words: cool, wet, late and surprisingly good. Late rains and cool weather (although no frost) in March and April meant that our vines got off to a late start, budding out in mid- to late-April, about three weeks later than usual. The heavy, cold rains continued into May and early June, slowing and suppressing vine growth for the early part of the season.
Situated at 2100’ elevation, we generally track about three weeks behind the valley floor in vine development, which this year worked out to our favor. Bloom occurred during a warming period that began in mid-June, which meant that most of our vines bloomed after the passing of the shatter-inducing inclement weather that devastated many Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon vineyards (although we did have some shatter in some of our merlot and syrah). Bloom occurred over a much longer period than is typical, ending around July 1st, about a month later than usual.
With so much moisture on the vineyards in the spring, we were naturally concerned about excessive vine vigor, while the late start made us extra conscientious about crop level, since we knew ripening would be delayed. Accordingly, we waited a few weeks longer than usual to begin our spring shoot thinning, in order to allow the extra shoots to deplete some of the excess water in the soil. We were also relentless in our leafing and fruit thinning, making many passes through the vineyard to remove excess leaves and clusters in order to create an open, sunny environment for our ripening grapes.
A cooler than average July and August (described around Napa Valley as “the summer that wasn’t”) finally transitioned to a much warmer September and October. Veraison, which usually kicks off in late July or early August, was delayed until mid-August. As veraison finished up in the first week of September, we did a green drop of clusters that hadn’t fully colored up. A bit of rain in the first week of October caused a massive outbreak of Botrytis fungus in valley floor vineyards, but our windy estate dried quickly after the rains and experienced no issues with Botrytis at all.
We had a glorious October and picked most of our fruit in the first two weeks of November, wrapping up with our Reserve cabernet on November 16th. Although we heard horror stories of wines in the valley coming in at 21 Brix, our grapes averaged about 26-27 Brix, slightly lower than is typical for us, but not anything we were uncomfortable with since the flavors were very nice. Our last fermenting tanks were pressed off of the skins on December 9th, just in time for the holidays. Now that the wines are resting in barrel, we are more than pleased with the results. We were prepared for some negative flavors, such as chalky tannins or vegetal notes that are typical in cold, wet years, but the wines taste absolutely enchanting. The color in all the lots is nearly black, and the wines exhibit great depth, ripeness and structure. Malolactic fermentation of the reds should be finished up sometime in February. We hope that you can visit the winery to taste these 2011 beauties for yourselves!
- Sally Johnson, winemaker