Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cerro Prieto and Springtime Mysteries

There is always something invigorating about Spring, a sense of renewal, a chance to enjoy the warmer days, a time of getting outdoors...and for the vineyardist/vintner, it is a time of evaluation, decision, and expectation. Certain things are constants in Spring, and many of us know them:

April showers bring May flowers.

It never rains in California...except in Jan and Feb.

Dark days of winter give way to summer's sun.

Those are a few, but there are several that here at the vineyard are of special interest:

Turning leaves of poison oak in July portends a dry year coming up.

When the Easter Broom blooms, budding out is not far away

And it is this last one that has me a bit worried about what is coming this year. To recap, 2010 was the year of the BIG, COLD, DARK, WET. It was a miserable year for Bordeaux grapes, and most Rhones. But our 2010 mountaintop Syrah will be our best wine ever.(Still in barrel, but getting close) .
Whereas 2010 was a tough year, 2011 was the year of the BIGGER, COLDER, DARKER, WET. In fact, it was a disastrous year for California with mildew up and down the state, grapes that didn't ripen, and flavors that never materialized. That said, our Pinot was once again extraordinary, liking the cold, dark, wet. Nonetheless, the Pinot grapes never attained flavor, altho the wine did.

Now the mysteries: Our Scotch Broom, is in full bloom as I look out the window into the gardens below. Normally it goes off on Easter, but that was a month ago already. Back then it barely had any buds.  Even more confounding is our massive Lupine Bush(you all know the massive fields of blue lupine flowers...well this is full on purple and 12 feet in diameter, and eight feet high)...which typically blooms just about the time our vines go into bloom, right about now.  Well, that beautiful bush had flowers galore a month ago, when our vines first went into bud break. Now it sits beside our Cabernet in Block 5 bereft of flowers, with only leaves remaining. So does that mean an early summer or does it mean a late summer? I am totally confused with two indicator plants completely out of sync with the vineyard.

One thing we do know and that was this was the mildest winter in memory...and we have been here 37 yrs. Spring, or rather 2 days prior, greeted our buds on the vine with a full on hard rain one day, followed by a hard sleet the next. No real winter, and then it appears 1 day prior to Spring. Somehow it set the Easter Broom behind and started the Lupine Bush early...each by a month. So what does that mean for the vines this yr? Well, that is a good question.

Once Spring started, we had nites in the 30s and days in the 60s. Beautiful weather, but with a really brutal cold start. Right now we are watching as grape blooms are just a few days away, and the low temps have behaved themselves. We heard the wind machines for the 3 days around the hail storm, but not since. Obviously we are most vulnerable to a hard freeze once the bloom comes out. As of today that hasn't happened, but we all have our beads out and fingers crossed.

Just looking at the vineyard from a month ago when there was nothing but spurs poking up along the cordon, right now it is a beautiful spring green, with foliage literally covering the cordons. We are in terminal stages of completing shoot thinning before bloom, and the vineyard looks as orderly as it ever will. Once the shoots come up, they grow any which way, giving the vines an untidy look. Actually with VSP (vertical shoot positioning), virtually most of our shoots point towards heaven, but a few unruly ones don't, and it gives the vines a shaggy look. Syrah is famous for doing that...growing any which way. So right now we look to be right on track, having gone thru bud break about a month ago, and now almost into bloom. What worries me is the contradictory Easter Broom and the Lupine Bush, both completely out of phase. Easter Broom always is a show of yellow at Easter, and comes at the time of bud break. Just not this yr, and the Lupine Bush went off early...about a month, which also has never happened. I know this means something....I just don't know what.

So while chewing on that in the winery, it has been "just awful" to have to go in and barrel taste..both the 2010 Syrah and Pinot and the 2011 Pinot. Just awful because all 3 wines are so good, I want to get in the barrels and swim in them....which won't happen, but in 3 weeks we will bottle the 2010 Pinot. I promise, altho it came from a bad year, it is fantastic. The Syrah is the same, just superb, and getting ready for bottling, probably within next 3 mos. 2011 Pinot, made from flavorless grapes is astoundingly good, fruity, and mellow. Where the flavors came from, well God alone knows. It is rare for a wine from Cerro Prieto not to have incredibly flavorful grapes, but this yr proves that is not necessary, altho we prefer wines from flavor-full-packed grapes.

I guess the thing I am wrestling with at present, is will this be another disaster year or will this be a gentle, warm, dry year that allows us to make our well known big bouquet/big flavor wines. Right now I keep busy making sure ditches are cleared out, cover crop is healthy, thinning is done, and gophers are kept under control. Worrying about the year that is going to unfold is not within the realm of things I can control. So we go about our vineyard chores, check and recheck positions on vines, check thinning results, and continue to wake up to the sounds of Spring...not someone's wind machines kicking off at 4:30 in the morning. That makes for a bad day. So far, so good, and we are all anxiously awaiting early to mid June, at which time all worries of late frosts pretty much disappear.

As for my gut feel for this year, I would say cautiously optimistic, but holding my breath. Most things are settting up for a big year, with 11 inches of rain(52 last yr), and a mild winter, except for the surprise Spring hail storm.  Vineyard looks should see it...wildflowers in abundance, and everything set to make big wines with massive bouquets and flavors. All we have to do now is make it thru the next 30-35 days and you all can expect a great harvest yr. After we all got cheated by 2010 and 2011, we all feel we need one.

For our wine club members, we have only 3 bottles left of our '06 Merlot and 4 cases of the '06 Paso  Bordo, of which I am going to keep 40 bottles. Everything else we have in stock, and is ready to drink. The 09 Merlot and 09 Cab we are not currently pouring , but it is getting better by leaps and bounds. I suspect it will be ready within the next month. Good health to all.

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