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January 23, 2012

Sonoma Harvest 2011

The reports coming in on the “Wine Harvest of 2011” are pretty good!  There were some patchy weather items, but from the comments being made, it ended on a good note!  The additional time on the vines is said to create complex flavor profiles, and there were some who used different winemaking techniques to create port!  That’s good news for those interested in Selling a home with a vineyard in Sonoma, or a farm with land in Napa Valley!  Here are the reports on the 2011 Harvest:

Sonoma Harvest 2011 Commentary

In some of the Sonoma Appellations, the entire season was seen as a fight.  In June there was a devastating rain that knocked flowers off the vines (limiting the amount of fruit that would be produced) and then there were unseasonably cool temperatures.  The lower temperatures slowed the growing season from some growers to about 40 days, compared to 60 in an average year.  It ended, for many with wet days in October that created a situation that left many with rotted fruit from botrytis.

But what hindered some wineries proved to be an opportunity for others. Zach Long, winemaker for Kunde Family Estate, said after seeing so many acres impacted by rot, they decided to make a limited production of botrytis white in a style similar to the French sweet wines known as sauternes.

“It’s kind of our celebration of detriment,” Long laughed.

He explained that the grey botrytis rot dries out the grapes, drastically increasing the sugar levels to around 40 brix. The wineries stomped 1.76 tons of fungus-infected grapes by foot to keep the fruit more intact, filling two barrels for fermentation. The unique flavor produced by botrytis mixed with the high sugar content creates a sweet wine with a higher alcohol content.

“It’s kind of like port, but you don’t add booze to it,” Long said. Although it’s a popular product, this style of winemaking is less common because so much fruit is required for a small yield of wine.

“It really is a high-end product lots of people strive for,” Long said, adding that it is not traditionally something Kunde offers. But the winery works exclusively off estate grown grapes, and this year, with a 30 percent drop in yield, it was important to salvage as many grapes as possible.

“Years like this are always a big heartbreak on an estate because you can’t subsidize the loss,” Long said. “If you have this challenge from Mother Nature, you might as well take advantage of it.”

While the impact on quantity was immediately apparent, the quality of grapes is yet to be seen. Thanks to the cooler weather, many vintners said the brix did not develop to the levels they were hoping, but the longer hang time on the vine meant the fruit was able to build more complex flavor profiles.

NAPA Valley Harvest 2011 Report

“2011 was a challenging and as well as what I am calling ‘an educational vintage,’ the third in a row,” said Oakville Ranch Winery General Manager Paula Kornell who was born and raised in the Napa Valley wine industry. “What we found this vintage were flavors that developed at lower brix, giving us an opportunity to make truly elegant wines at lower alcohol levels.”

“Harvest 2011–from tears to glory!” is how renowned vintner Tim Mondavi, owner of Continuum capsulized the year and winemakers appellation-wide are in agreement.

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