It’s finally over, for the most part.
Why is that a big deal you ask? Well, primarily because harvest is typically over several weeks ago, that's why. The West Coast is seeing some of the latest harvest dates on record, which should produce some pretty variable bottles of wine.
Think about what happens when you have a late harvest. Basically, there are three potential outcomes.
The first is that the extra hang time the grapes have had and their late maturation (because of a cool season) will produce wines that are higher in acid and lower in alcohol than one might typically find. The tannins could very well be smoother and softer, while the wines should have exceptional complexity due to the slow maturation of the phenolics in the grapes. Those are the things we love to taste and smell.
On the other end of the spectrum will be wines that just didn't reach the finish line. They will share the high acid and low alcohol character of the vintage, but will have green, astringent tannins and low intensity green flavors!
The third outcome is somewhere in the middle, wines that will be appealing but possibly rather ordinary in many ways. If you're like me and find the normal character of the west coast wines to be a bit too extraordinary in many years, this might provide welcome relief indeed!
Check out our Harvest Infographic for more details about the harvest cycle!
Figuring out who will have what outcome is impossible at this stage of the game. So many factors will go into winemaking this year that, unlike some vintages that may be called a winemaker’s year or a viticulturalist’s year, 2011 will go down as a vintage where everyone had to be on their A game to get things right.
Consider the issues in the vineyard:
Spring brought rain and cool weather to much of the West Coast, delaying the start of the season by three weeks in many regions. This was followed up with rain at flowering through much of California’s North Coast region, reducing the set of fruit.
Summer brought more to worry about as it threatened not to appear. With unusually cool weather over the west coast, growers grew nervous as July and August mostly passed without any appearance of summer’s usual warmth. This warmth is what makes grapes happy. Not only was 2011 going to be a late, small crop, but it looked like it would struggle to ripen as well.
Warm weather did finally arrive, but the slow start to the season could not be made up in those few weeks. As August gave way to September, everyone knew that this might very well turn into a nail-biter of a vintage. Would the warm weather last long enough to ripen the grapes? Would the rains arrive late enough to not interfere with the harvest? For almost everyone, the answer to the first question was yes indeed, if just barely. Sadly, the answer to the second was no.
Rains did come, and not just in Oregon (where precipitation was modest and expected), but also through much of Northern California. Not only did these late rains dilute what was already turning out to be a lighter styled vintage, but the persistent dampness brought on attacks of mold that only a dessert wine producer could love.