“Deep” Freeze = “Deep” Discounts? Thoughts on N. Cal’s Strange Summer Days

Vinted on August 23, 2010 binned in California wine

It’s not really a deep freeze, of course – it’s simply been a wet and (very) mild Summer in Northern California.  Just about anything with leaves that produces fruit was weeks behind schedule in terms of ripening. If you scan the ‘global interwebs’ on the topic, it might strike you that the sky is about to fall with a thud on the entire wine business in Napa and Sonoma.

But most of the Napa and Sonoma vintners to whom I’ve spoken in the last few weeks don’t seem all that worried.  Which is a good thing, since the rest of the wine world was worried enough for all of them put together.

Certainly grape growers, already under pressure from the economic downturn, are feeling the heat (so-to-speak) about the late ripening, even if most of California’s residents aren’t.

Here on the Right Coast, we were baking as if in an oven for the better part of the Summer of 2010, and I enjoyed the cool breezes that came in recently on the heels of some long-overdue rainstorms; and with them, a breath of fresh air about the whole N. CA 2010 vintage doomsday prophesies, courtesy of Ed Thralls over at WineTonite.com.

In a (fairly) recent post, Ed did a little bit of comparative analysis on the 2010 vintage thus far, and came up with an interesting conclusion…

The emphasis is mine, by the way:

“I noticed that for Napa, 2010 is looking very similar to 1998 in terms of the degree days accumulation to-date.  In 1998, Napa had weather and disease pressure including late rains in May and June and unusually cool weather due to El Nino.  This caused delays in budbreak, early vine development and bloom.  However, the vintage ‘recovered’ due to a warm and dry “Indian Summer” in October allowing the fruit to completely ripen with excellent flavor development.”

Ed, my man, I think – and hope! – that you might be onto something.

Is it so bad, after all, that Napa and Sonoma might have to pick their big red wine grapes a little less, well, big?  Will lower brix spell doom for the vintage of 2010?  Unlikely.

I’m pretty sure that Napa and Sonoma 2010 wines will have plenty of detractors and possibly lower-than-normal scores in the press, primarily due to the negative buzz around the concerning Summer weather (marketing will, no doubt, explain to us that optimal ripeness was achieved anyway).  BUT…

Has anyone out there tried the 1998s from Napa and Sonoma in the last year or so?  Some of them are drinking beautifully right now, and the majority of them that I’ve had the fortune of sampling were far, far from being duds.  In hindsight, they were bargains since their lower scores drove discounted prices.

Might we be heading for a similar situation in 2010?  Ed seems to think so.

And for the sake of my wallet, I sure hope that he’s right!


(images: northstateweather.com)





  • Steve Heimoff

    It all depends on the rain. As usual! No surprise there. If the rains hold off, it could be a magnificent harvest. If they don't… Meanwhile, a heat wave — the first of the summer — is starting today. That should help push the ripening process, although the growers don't like it when the temps hit 100, which they will. Just keep in mind that the heavy rain can begin as early as October, and usually by November the rainy season begins in earnest in the North Coast. So if Cabernet ripening is 3 weeks late, well, you get the picture. As for 1998, you know who basically destroyed the reputation of that vintage.

  • Jon Bjork

    Also note that winegrape growers have learned lessons from the past. What was probably going to be an average-sized crop could be below average due to all the crop thinning that many Lodi growers I know are doing. There is also much more fruit-zone leaf pulling being carried out in the vineyards to help the remaining grapes ripen that much sooner.

  • Julie Crafton

    Funny you bring this up Joe – a few months ago we did a St. Helena Star/NVV Tasting Panel on 1998 Cabernets and the overall consensus was very positive. Hope you enjoy this read!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Julie!

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, Albert – I'm with you; I've got a positive enough viewpoint that I'm at least willing to the N. Cal. wines of 2010 before I render any final judgment. Cheers!

  • Evan Dawson

    I'm stoked about this. Absolutely stoked. So much can change, but if every Harlan out there is forced to spend one vintage being Mayacamas (okay, I'm way over-simplifying, but still), then I'll be buying – and probably buying at discount prices. Eventually discounted, anyway, when the vintage is panned by the Laubes of the world. Which is fine. To each their own taste.

    Joe, I particularly like your needling of wineries for constantly invoking "optimal ripeness." It's like vintage variation doesn't happen or doesn't matter. We don't have to buy it.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Evan – let's keep our fingers crossed… of course, N. Cal. needs low scores right now like they need a hole in the head!

      • Evan Dawson

        Agreed. I should have clarified that I'm stoked from the perspective of a customer. I'm not stoked for my friends in the industry who might suffer as a result. But that's the point: If they make excellent wine, they shouldn't suffer just because the vintage is less monstrous. Get the message machine rolling!

  • Eric

    Well, I mean no offense to anyone who liked or made wine in the vintage 1998, but as a former Napa/Sonoma Cab collector throughout the 90's, IMHO they just well..sucked. To wit:

    Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve Napa Valley199880$40
    Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve Napa Valley199794$40

    • 1WineDude

      Eric – no doubt there were bad wines in `98. But in my experience, there's also no doubt that there were some very, very good Napa wines made that year as well.

  • Eric

    I remember the vintage so well, partially because of the dramatic change in quality from the 96 & 97's, but also when they came out in 2000 we had the dot com crash (where my startup was a casualty), so I could not afford to buy at the level I once did, and switch to Pinot Noir, and never looked back! (Now I make Pinot in Healdsburg!)

    • 1WineDude

      Well, Eric – sounds like things worked out pretty well for you! BTW, love that you saw fit to give the pool table such important billing in the creation of your wine brand :-). Cheers!

  • Eric

    The Pool Table is our most expensive piece of winery equipment! (Even more than our Forklift) Priorities!

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