March 5, 2013
The 2011 Vintage
It is the time of year that we are blending our wines that will be released from May onward. For the red wines, the blends are all from the 2011 vintage, so we have been deeply immersed in our 2011 reds these last two months. As some of you may have heard, 2011 was a difficult year for some producers in Northern California because of an early October rain event that caused an outbreak of the bunch-rot fungus called botrytis in some vineyards. Due to this rain, 2011 was a great vintage to be up in the mountains; the higher you went, the less botrytis was a problem. For our vineyards at 2100’ elevation, we had drying winds, an already exposed fruit zone on each vine, and zero problems with botrytis. October went on to be a nice warm month in 2011, with the harvest of our red grapes occurring between late October and the middle of November.
For us at Pride Mountain Vineyards, what was interesting about 2011 was how mild the growing season was; one might even say cool. One measure of the growing and ripening conditions each vintage is the so-called “Growing Degree Days” (or GDD). This is a cumulative number where the average temperature each day (minus a constant base temperature) is added up from March 1 onward. Normally, the higher the GDD come October, the riper will be the fruit. The GDD on October 31 in each of the last 14 vintages at Pride Mountain Vineyards is shown in the graph above. The 2010 and 2011 vintages, circled in red, are the two coldest vintages on record for us. Nonetheless, the red grapes at harvest achieved the level of physiological ripeness we desire (softened skins, brown crunchy seeds, great ripe flavors) just at lower sugar levels than in the riper years. The main difference between 2011 and 2010 is that 2011 was cooler throughout the growing season but warmed up more in September and especially October compared to 2010.
The reds from 2011 are off the charts. Plenty of unctuous concentration but with the bonus of loads of varietal character shining through at lower than average alcohol levels. It is one of my favorite Pride Mountain vintages ever. At the recent Premiere Napa Valley tasting and auction on February 22, 2013, which is a trade event sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners Association, 750 wine professionals from around the country tasted through the 2011 Napa reds. During the auction, our blend of 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot garnered an average bottle price of $467 which made it the highest price ever paid for our lot of 60 bottles at the Premiere Napa Valley event, and we have been participating each year for more than a decade (ours ranked 7th overall out of 211 lots). So don’t be scared off by the 2011 vintage. Even from those producers in the surrounding valleys who had to contend with the early-October botrytis, some absolutely knock-out red wines were produced. This is a real testament to the greater-than-ever diligence of today’s winemakers.
Looking forward to sharing some of the 2011 reds with you during your next visit,