As you may know, the California winegrape harvest is underway. Not quite in full swing, but underway. Due to cooler than usual weather in most growing regions, the season is coming a bit later as well as more spread out than usual. This means that the grapes are able to hang on the vine longer, improving flavors and concentration, without having the sugar increase to levels that result in ultra-high alcohol.
Great, right? I know I'm happy about it. The Pinot noir I have fermenting right now in the winery is rich, aromatic, has good acid and deep varietal character, and isn't going to end up with alcohol upwards of 15%. I wonder why, then, it's possible to find all sorts of predictions of doom and failure in the wine media. Sandwiched between quotes from grapegrowers and winemakers who state that quality could be wonderful this year are statements that this will be a 'late and difficult vintage' (decanter.com) for California, or even better, suggesting questions about the quality of the vintage in the title of an article that then includes quotations from wine professionals who tell us that they think quality will be excellent this year (winespectator.com).
Thanks heaps for the confusion, wine media. I have a suspicion that they, as a whole, are preparing to trash the '05 vintage as a whole, similarly to what the Wine Spectator did to the 2000 vintage. In 2000, we had cooler weather than normal, with rain at the end, and certainly some producers struggled to ripen their crops. Unfortunately for many winemakers who turned out elegant, structured wines, the universal thumbs down from the critics and their magazines has encouraged people to avoid California wines from that vintage altogether. It is sadly possible to now find good bottles of '00 Cabernet at discount prices as sellers struggle to move these wines.
So, that's why I'm up on a soapbox. The wine media has to have a story to sell, and nothing generates reader interest like a bit of drama--or controversy. The weather's too hot, the weather's too cold, it might rain, it might frost... all of these things concern us as an industry; grape growers are farmers and so we're all subject to the whim of mother nature and her effects on our growing conditions. But the media does the industry far greater damage when it takes liberties with predicting the overall quality and success of a vintage than extreme weather ever could. There are plenty of winemakers out there who, working hand in hand with the grape growers, can make wonderful wine in even 'difficult' vintages.
Ok, that's enough sermonizing! How about a glass of wine? I've just tried the Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer and White Riesling, and found both to be wonderful examples of what these two grape varieties can produce in the right climate in California. Richly aromatic with wonderful flavors of lychee and stone fruit, the Gewurz was wonderful paired with spicy Thai. The Riesling, on the other hand, I enjoyed by itself. It has a bracing core of acidity that might seem a bit much for those who prefer off-dry versions of this grape, but a little patience and some air in the glass produced the most wonderful results after a half hour or more. Very nice.