Articles Tagged California wine
Remember how the Northern California 2010 vintage was kind of “difficult?”
Oh, right, it’s impossible to avoid that news lately… not that I’m complaining, mind you (it’s better to have a bit too much wine coverage than too little!), nor am I trying to minimize or make light of the plight and hardship faced by those in N. CA whose grapes didn’t fare the strange growing season well.
Further developments on the harvest have been trickling into my (poor, overworked and overburdened) e-mail Inbox,and one note in particular regarding the 2010 vintage situation caught my eye: that at Hidden Ridge, whose wines, you may remember, I quite enjoy.
The title of the email was “Sonoma County’s Hidden Ridge Vineyard Will Not Harvest This Year Due to Inconsistent Growing Season” which I suppose just about sums it up, but here’s an excerpt from the dispatch for the curious:
“Hidden Ridge Vineyard Proprietors Casidy Ward and Lynn Hofacket, along with Winemaking Team Marco DiGiulio and Timothy Milos, today announced that they will not harvest any fruit from the Hidden Ridge Vineyard in 2010 season because of this year’s inconsistent growing season… This year’s late season, followed by recent rains in Northern California, resulted in fruit that was not up to Ward and Hofacket’s standards for their vineyard’s eponymous wine label. While it was difficult decision to go without a 2010 vintage wine for Hidden Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which retails for $40, the choice is in keeping with the proprietors’ commitment to produce only the best wines possible from their vineyard.”
This got me wondering… since Hidden Ridge recently took the bold (but successful) maneuver of reducing their prices (without impacting quality one iota), are they in a good position to weather (sorry…) the financial storm of not producing a 2010 bottling? Given the limping state of the economy, is anyone?
I, for one, sure hope so.
But there’s a more insidious side to this crazy vintage coin. Actually, there’s three other sides (this is a very oddly-shaped coin):
- It’s a chilling indicator of the areas that didn’t fare well over the past growing season in Northern CA.
- It’s an obnoxiously powerful reminder from Mother Nature that she still rules the roost, and when she wants to take her ball and go home, well, dammit, she’s just gonna take her f*cking ball and go the f*ck home.
- It’s a timely warning to us consumers that while it’s very likely that there will be other N. CA producers who come to similar conclusions as HR about the state of their fruit, they just might decide to bottle it anyway…
In the immortal words of Mr. Mike Brady, “Caveat emptor…”
That’s the (apt) summary that winemaker and grower Steve Matthiasson gave me when I asked him how things were looking in Napa as they approached harvest of what has been one of the craziest growing seasons in recent memory.
There’s been much speculation in the wine press as to the impact that the bizarre Summer weather patterns would have on the quality of the fruit that will shortly be going into Napa’s wines, so I reached out to Steve for an update, because he’s probably the most passionate person I know when it comes to making great wine and growing great fruit in the Valley (since he does both, and does them both very well). A somewhat narrow view, arguably, but I’ll take a dispatch from the field over speculation, any day.
The short version of the Napa 2010 story is that it’s not all gloom-and-doom, but it does seem to be a case of feast-or-famine and a potential study in extremes.
While some varieties in particular, and some pockets of the Valley in general, are taking a nasty hit, others have fared pretty well – and some growers may actually be onto fruit that could result in extremely high-quality wines, despite the atypical weather…
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To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven
– The Byrds
Let’s play a little game of word association. I say “Carneros” and you say… ___________.
Budding wine geeks and geekettes out there would likely answer “Pinot Noir” or “Chardonnay” or “Sparklers” or “Unimpressive-In-Recent-Vintages.”
But the answer we’re looking for today is… wait for it…
Our story today not only involves Carneros, it also involves turns, banks, and several groan-worthy, near-pun plays-on-words. Oh, yeah, and some very good wine as well (you didn’t think I leave that part out, did you?).
A couple of weeks back, I dragged my worn-out and slightly-hungover bones over to the fine Farmstead restaurant in St. Helena to meet up with former investment-banker turned wine brand owner (and first-class personality dynamo) Emily Richer. Over a “light” lunch of amazingly fresh garden produce made into phenomenal but artery-clogging, buttery delights, Emily and I chatted (and chatted, and chatted – we’re both talkers) about her new wine venture, Virage Napa Valley. Emily had come with a preview, label-less bottle of Virage’s inaugural release.
It’s from Carneros. But it’s not a Chard, a Pinot, or a sparkler.
It’s a blend made primarily from Cabernet Franc. And it’s pretty damn good.
Is Emily nuts for trying to establish a new brand in today’s hostile market – especially when she’s banking on a variety that still isn’t relatively well-known to most wine consumers (and even to some wine store employees)? Her backers don’t seem to think so…
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Hidden Ridge Vineyard is technically in Sonoma County, though it’s a stone’s throw from Pride Mountain Winery and is pretty close to Napa, as the crow flies.
But in order to actually get to Hidden Ridge’s insanely, almost Mosel-esque steep vineyards in any reasonable amount of time, you’d need to travel as the crow flies. As in, by helicopter (not that I’ve seen any crows flying helicopters… but it could happen, right?). Or, you can do what I did on a recent press trip, which is visit Hidden Ridge Vineyards by way of Lynn Hofacket’s four-wheel-drive truck.
Which is to say, you can be tossed around like a rag doll in the back seat of Lynn Hofacket’s four-wheel-drive truck while traversing the rocky, twisting and winding “roads” that lead you to the vineyard owned by Lynn & Casidy Ward. I’d love to provide directions, but I’m pretty sure my memory of the trip was compromised by the multiple concussions I endured during the drive.
The vineyards at Hidden Ridge might be elevated (some as high as 1700 feet), but the winemaking approach of consulting winemakers Marco DiGiulio and Timothy Milos is fairly down to earth. Several years ago, Lynn was advised to “throw that damn thing away” when he tried to produce a refractometer in the vineyard to measure grape ripeness. Now, he and the winemaking team simply taste the grapes to determine the best time to pick. “Brix aren’t measured until the wine is in the tank” Timothy told me when we toured the ridiculously steep (on up to 55 degree slopes) rows of vines on the Hidden Ridge property.
Lynn is fond of telling stories, most of which are about California wine industry types and aren’t really fit for “printing” here, but the most interesting story when it comes to Hidden Ridge, for me, is the wine itself – most notably, it’s price. Or I should say, its prices…
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