Saturday, July 21, 2012

Confirmation that 2012 will be huge quality year.

Okay, last time we looked at a few grape clusters,  made a few comments on a big year (quality, but not quantity unless  one should desire it...the two are mutually exclusive, however). Early on, I am going to slip in a couple pics that help me evaluate the harvest looming in 2 short months for Pinot and Whites, and 3 months for the Big Reds, Bordeauxs and Rhones.
So what do we see here? Basically, it is mid July when I took this and the poison oak is virtually 90% red, something we generally see when deciduous trees change color...say in late October, perhaps a touch earlier. Okay, let's look at one more just for grins.
This is just a few hundred yards from the top picture, and shows virtually all poison oak(Rhus) denuded of leaves. So what gives? Those many of you who have visited us are aware that altho we are only at 1250 feet elevation, we have a mountain climate, much like that seen in Vail, hot as hades in daytime and you need coats at nite. Our daytime temp today was 105 degrees, and tonite it will be 39 degrees...maybe even 35. Point is we have humongous temp swings, which is typical of mountain climates in summer. Of interest is a point I have made before about the wildflower we have growing here, Pedicularis, found in the lily family, with brite fuschia stems (much like the SW Indian Paintbrushes), except those are orange and these are fuschia. Accordingly, looking up Pedicularis in the Mountain Wildflower book, it states that Pedicularis is seen only between 5000 ft to 7500 ft elevation. In essence, we have mountain climate but at only 1250 ft elevation.

Most of you who have visited here are aware of the whys. We are the southern tip of the hot Paso AVA, yet we are the North face of the Templeton Gap, the marine air layer that rolls in about 5:30 each nite, much like in Burlingame, up in the Bay area. It is the mountain ridge of Cerro Prieto that holds that cold air mass in the Templeton Gap. It also, however, subjects our Cab, Merlot and Syrah to massive day/nite temp shifts, the average being 60-70 degrees, day to nite.

So that explains our temp swings, but how does this relate to the Rhus toxicondron pictured above. Well, 2006 thru 2009 were hot dry yrs, basically drought, with rainfall of 12, 10, 9, and 8 inches, respectively. But 2006 was immediately preceded by a mammoth wet year, 2005, year of the big , cold, dark, wet. In 2006 thru 2009, we had a similar situation with poison oak, turning color 2 months early and losing leaves about the same time. Well, we are back to that scenario. 2010 was the year of the big , cold, dark, wet. Rainfall 52 inches at Cerro Prieto. Our Syrah (and most everyone else's who were pruned to low yields, 2.5 tons/acre or less)....did exceptionally well. We didn't even make Cab, or Merlot that yr, as it was just too damn cold. Fast forward to 2011, the year of the colder, darker , bigger wet. For most of that year, we had temps in the mid to low 60s, as our highs. Under 60 degrees, not a whole lot of photosynthesis goes on. Put it on your calendar, 2011 was a dog season for Cab, Merlot, and Syrah. Not to put too fine point on it, but we didn't even bother to make Cab, Merlot or Syrah in 2011.

Worse, yet, we lost half our vineyard to 2 hailstorms, during bloom, plus one 70 knot wind (also during bloom), and a 2"  rainstorm, again in the midst of bloom. Our grapes eventually ripened, but were completely without the flavor we are so well known for. Oddly, our crummy grapes sold at a premium to many of the wineries that had NO GRAPES, due to their loss of entire crops because of severe mildew. Only thing making it harder was the fact that during that time, availability of mildew sprays were either sold out or backlogged so far, it didn't matter. Enter our vineyard manager, who also just so happens to sell vineyard chemical. Needless to say, we were well protected for the half a crop we had left. They just weren't grapes I had any intention attempting to make wine from.

Well, here we are again, 2012, a 12" rain yr(qualifies as drought...normal = 24" here at Cerro Prieto), with an extremely mild winter, mild spring (if one can ignore a pair of hailstorms, one brief, one not so), and beautiful weather for going thru bloom unmolested. Only our Merlot got hailed on during bloom and I showed pictures of that last blog. Summer has been delightful, days in the 100s, and nites in the mid 30s. Perfect weather for mountain Cab, mountain Syrah, mountain Merlot. The days have lengthened, giving us massive heat and light for optimal grape growing conditions. We did get touched up a bit 2 weeks ago, with a 109 degrees(each vine got 3 gallons of water), 112 degrees next day(same water schedule) and 119 degrees (REALLY) the following day in the vineyard, which demanded antother 8 gals of water. Since then we have been hunky dory, grapes and vines growing like crazy. According to my reems of notes, 2012 is a carbon copy of 2006, which followed the year 2005,  a previous big , cold, dark, wet.

The roots of all vines were flushed out like crazy in both 2010 and 2011, removing any impurities or buildup of saline or whatever else might be lurking in our soil. So when 2012 rolled around, there had been 2 solid yrs of massive rainfall(52 and 54"), and way more cold and dark than we wanted. 2012 is going to be very close to 2006, a fantastic, premium yr for low yield high quality red winegrapes, grown in solid limestone soil, with 70 degree day/nite temp swings. In summary, we are sitting on an astonishingly fantastic harvest (quality I speak of), altho some will unfortunately use this for a massive quantity harvest...but those won't be the kind of wines people reading this blog will want to drink.

The incredibly early leaf drop in the poison oak surrounding our vineyard, the balmy days, the relative drought, the mild winter and spring, and now the hot-hot days plus the cold nites...folks, buy 2012, but avoid 2011 wines(Big Reds). Virtually all surrounding wineries here had terrific Syrah harvests in 2010, so buy those. But Cab and Merlots from 2010 as well as 2011 will almost surely be not to your liking.

Finally, a last photo of what a difference two weeks makes. The June 30 blog showed what the late hail storm during bloom did to our poor Merlot. Once again I will show you Cab, Merlot and Syrah...just 2 weeks later. Cab to the left, Syrah in center, and Merlot to the right. Now go back and look at what the Merlot looked like a mere 15 days ago. It is remarkable how even with a crop dinged by hail, which looked anemic to the point of death, can rebound so quickly...or actually, just rebound at all. Yet, that is what it does. If you compare the pictures, you will swear I doctored them...but I assure you I didn't. One thing to note. The Merlot will go thru veraison last, will ripen last, but will ripen beautifully.

Hopefully I made a coherent case for a banner year harvest, with those wineries like Cerro Prieto being pruned to 2.5 to 1.0 tons/acre. Add to that the world class terroir (southern facing, huge temp swings, and limestone soil), we at Cerro Prieto and nearby wineries, are looking down the barrel of  a spectacular harvest.

Not mentioned, but our Very Cold Valley Vineyard has produced some spectacular really cold weather Pinot and Sauv Blanc during those two dark, cold, wet yrs of 2010 and 2011. But if you are looking for a great Cab, Merlot or Syrah from 2011...fuggedaboudit. The Syrah from 2010 is going to be spectacular however, and we plan to bottle ours within the next few weeks. Our 2010 Syrahs will  undoubtedly be the best wines(one is a 7 % Cab blend from a barrel of '09 Cab I held back from 2009, the other is a straight up Syrah) I have ever made. Having to walk by these barrels daily absolutely requires daily tasting. Hopefully we will manage to get some of it in barrel for you all to enjoy also.

That's it from here, except for a note for our wine club members. Our spectacular 2010 Sauv Blanc which sells for $30/btl(it is that good), sells by the case for $300. Our lovely 2009 Pinot Noir(clones 777, 115, and Pomard 4/5) sells for $35/btl, but cases sell for $300. If interested, email or phone me.

I hope you all are as excited about this upcoming harvest as we are. It plans to be a beaut.


  1. Can't wait to try!

  2. The 2010 Syrah Reserve, la Terraza bloc, the 2010 Syrah Bordo (93% Syrah/ 7% Cab), and the remainder of the other half of the '09 Cab barrel we didn't use in the blend are all 3 my favorite wines to date...and they are huge, inky purple black in color, massive in bouquet, flavor, at lovely at mid palate, and all have a silky finish. Once bottled we will have to lay them down to let them settle and allow the sulfites to kill off any unwanted bacteria that might remain,eg, aerobacter, which can turn a beautiful wine into vinegar if unsulfited. It is always tempting to not sulfite, but that means the wine has approximately a six week shelf life... and that is unacceptable.