It's the middle of January and Napa Valley is unseasonably warm (back-to-back 80 and 82 degree days this week) and dry. Winter, which promises wet weather to feed the vines and snow in the mountain ranges to feed the water supply, is already tracking at 75% of normal. But what is normal? We've been at 66% of what is considered Valley floor normal in Napa the last two years. Compound that over two years and it equals = no damn good (especially when we are tracking behind and January is off to its driest start in years).
With frighteningly low yields for red wine grapes in 2008, we're safe, but saddened, to expect more of the same in 2009. It's dry out there - banks are bankrupt, retail shops are closing their doors, restaurants are shuttering and farmers are feeling Mother Nature inflicted pain. So, I am off to France. Not for good, but for work - an opportunity to get away and to visit one of our barrel providers, Ermitage.
Ermitage has been a valued supplier of barrels for Larkmead since the 2006 vintage. Ermitage barrels make up about 10% of our entire oak program for red wines and about 45% of the oak barrels we use to ferment and age our Sauvignon Blanc (a little over 80% is in wood, the remaining is stainless steel barrels). I won't delve into too much detail now, because I plan on recapping the trip in words and pictures upon my return.
However, there is some good news, post holidays, to report from the cellar. Soon, you will all start seeing the 2006 Napa Valley Cabernets hitting the shelves and the wines which kept a great many winemakers up at night worrying about their tannins seem to be balancing out in bottle - building richness and concentration and coming into their own. You should expect these wines to age well due to their structure and natural acidity; but a tip for those of you who like to inflict Herculean amounts of malice on young wines - they'd be best served as an accompaniment to food.
The 2007 Cabernets are being heralded as a “can't miss” vintage. The wines, full of fruit and finesse, power and elegance, are a focused product as a result of the planets aligning during an optimal growing season that produced fruit on the vine that reached perfect maturity of flavor due to precision balance of sugar, acid and skins. After harvest the wines have consistently developed without intervention and are screaming to be bottled early and consumed upon release. This is good news for those of you who are willing to cellar the 06's, because I promise you the 07's will be drunk one after the other and then they will be gone.
And last but not least, the 2008's. The vintage posed an early challenge because of the low yields and a struggle for balanced ripeness. In the winery we saw many of the wines finish primary and secondary fermentation concurrently, which produced very green flavors. However, since resting in barrel the last two and a half months, the wines have become more concentrated and have presented more depth of flavors. We are very excited about the young 2008 wines and after my trip to France we'll be making early racking and blending decisions to help develop the wines into a world-class product that rivals the previous vintages.
All in all, the best of what is happening in Northern California wine growing these past years is the diversity vintage to vintage. If your favorite wine producers are trusting their feelings for terroir (a combination earth, wind, water and fire) and making wines true to what is given to them, the bona fide connoisseurs and amateurs alike, will appreciate the differences and complexities vintage to vintage – that is what makes wine drinking and appreciation fun. Right? I hope so. See you all in two weeks, and I will leave you with the words of Emperor Bonaparte,
“Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.”
Until next time, a bientot.
Dan Petroski is Assistant Winemaker at Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley. Dan has an MBA from New York University and worked as an Ad Exec in New York for several years, before switching it up and trading his suit for a move out west.