Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cerro Prieto and 85 degrees in mid January: Redux of 2009?

Well, well, well. Here we are again, with the crystal ball and are once again wondering, "Just what the heck does it mean when the dress code off our back deck is shorts, no shoes, no shirts, and it is Jan 15th? Dec 15th to Feb 15th are traditionally our coldest times, so an interlude in mid January of 85 degrees, harkens back to the "winter" in Jan, 2009, when it also was 85 degrees on the back veranda. It was a perfect day for sunbathing, catching up on reading, and truly, just reminiscing about winters gone by...except it was Jan 15, 2009...and now that history of 2 weeks of warmth has repeated itself in Jan, 2013. The 4 years of 2006-2009 were fantabulous years for premium red wine grapes. Mild winters, 8-12" of rain, beautiful springs and summers, unmolested by late hail and icy rain storms,( particularly during bloom), contributed to 4 of the very best quality harvests the Paso AVA has ever had...and they were sequential....boom, boom, boom, boom.

 Pinot, bloc 4a, Cerro Teresa (bloc 5)
It is certainly no secret that of the Big Reds, 2010 hammered Cab and Merlot. On our mountains, where Syrah is planted at the highest elevation, Syrah budded out first, went into bloom first, and 10 days later Cab and Merlot did the same thing. That 10 day lag time, however, resulted in the Cab and Merlot blooms getting hammered by hail and icy rains. Same thing happened again in 2011, except, the Syrah bloom got hit also with a protracted hail/ice rain during the entire "Big Red" bloom. 2010 was known as the year of the big, cold, dark, wet. 2011 was known as year of the bigger, colder, darker, wet.

Syrah bloc

As I have mentioned before, we made no Cab nor Merlot in either year. We squeezed by with our 2010 Syrah( now our best wine ever, hands down), but lost out on Cab and Merlot. Both those years had dreary, lengthy, and hard rains, snows, frosts and hailstorms, unfortunately coming during bloom. Those 2 yrs had no 2 week warming break in mid January, but our fantastic harvest of 2009 did. I would love to predict based on a 2 week warm spell in mid January, that the 2013 harvest is going to be spectacular. One thing for sure. We just put up the driest January ever here in Paso. The spectacular harvests of '09 had a mid winter similar to this Jan, 2013. It is a hint, but no where near enough to make any kind of prediction for the coming yr. But '06-'09 were dry, and so far, 2013 has been exceptionally dry. Unfortunately, 2005 was seemingly mild, but we got 20" rain, in 4 storms...each one dropping 5" of rain in less than 24 hrs. In the mountains, that means major floods thru the valleys and lots of erosion if preventitive measures weren't taken.

 View thru bloc 4b and 5, both Cabs
So right now I am just observing, but so far, the indicators are for a mild winter. Our, and that of other grape farmers up and down California, fingers are crossed for no hail nor rainstorms on our bloom this spring. That is what has devastated the Big Reds in 2010, 2011, and 2012...hail or rain on bloom. Essentially the milder the winter, and the sooner it moves on, the better shot we all have of having no damage from hail or rain on our bloom. Somehow, I just feel it in my bones that this yr is headed for the "mild" category. 2012 was a puzzler, being relatively mild, but managing to rain/hail on our big reds, as well as Pinots during bloom. We had an ultra premium harvest, but the damage to bloom cut yields by half or more. I guess I just think the wine goddess owes us one, and 2012 was a teaser, with ideal growing conditions, but diastrous hail/rains during bloom. Maybe, just maybe, we are in for a world beater yr. We got spoiled by the fantastic yrs of 2006-2009. 2010-2012 made up for that, so hopefully, the bloom will be spared this yr. The warm mid January was a good the very least.

 Clouds befor the storm, Cerro Teresa bloc
We just got back the free SO2 levels on our 2010 Syrah and tiny bit of remnant 2009 Cab. Levels are continuing to drop, and once the sulfite taste is gone, we will release our 2010 Syrahs. Yup, no typo, we have two: the straight up Syrah(la terrazza bloc), and the Syrah Bordo(93% Syrah/ 7%  '09 Cab).  Both are unquestionably my two favorite wines made to date, and I cannot wait for them to settle down and be ready for mid June. Both Syrahs were made in 60% New French oak barrels, virtually double the 33% we normally use. The Syrah is so big that it just ate up New French barrels until we got to the 60% number. Fascinating, and altho one can finally discern the oak, at lesser percentages, the wine allowed for no oak flavor. Our "number" ended up 60% Seguin Moreau barrels, and I can tell you that in barrel, both Syrahs are the two best wines I have ever made. Good timing, in that our 2009 Syrah, just rated 90 pts by Wine Enthusiast ( "This is as rich and hedonistic as anything in California. It's like drinking an elixir of milk chocolate and blackberry jam, sprinkled with cinnamon and black pepper, and infused with vanilla bean".....Steve Heimoff, wine scribe for W.E., Feb issue), became an overnite  national sensation, and we darn near got drained of our Syrah. We still have 7 cases left, but are limiting purchase to 2 btls/person.

Sorry to have spent so much time on climatic conditions, but that is, in fact, what we get our great (or lousy) harvests from. So far, so good. Now let's just blow thru bloom with no damage...and keep conditions mild, until bloom is over. There is something every wine lover can hope addition to the winemakers.

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