The Vintage From Hell? More Dispatches From The Vineyard

Vinted on November 15, 2010 binned in California wine, wine news

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):

  1. It’s a chilling indicator of the areas that didn’t fare well over the past growing season in Northern CA.
  2. 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.
  3. 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…”






  • @dctravel20

    Very interesting Joe. Isn't this exactly the type of grapes that would have traditionally been sold as bulk wine or sold to out of state or smaller producers? While we may see some other "inconsistent" wine show up from 2010, I would bet it won't be under wineries premium labels. Probably see a whole bunch of "new" wine labels on the shelf made from fruit like this.

  • Joe @$uburbanwino

    Man, I was out in Sonoma in September, and seeing some of the scorched fruit was shocking (from the brutal heat wave that was preceding the rain and was preceded by cold weather that caused a bunch of canopy thinning that ended up in burnt fruit). I have a picture of some Viognier on a vine; a single cluster, half ripe, half torched (depending on the side of the vine)…crazy stuff.

    I agree with @dctravel20…Trader Joe's will probably have a whole new slew of $5 wines. What pisses me off the most is that my daughter was born in 2010, so I wanted a birthday case. She was in NorCal in 2010, so I wanted it from there, but I don't think it's gonna happen.

    • 1WineDude

      Sorry, Joe – I think you're gonna have to go with something from Europe at this point! :)

      • Joe @$uburbanwino

        Taking a look at Australia and Argentina as well. A case of Grange would stand the test of time…

  • Richard Scholtz

    While 2010 will go down as a difficult vintage, there will still be some good wines available. The trouble will be finding them. This is another reason not to listen to vintage charts, especially for "difficult" years. It sucks even worse for someone who makes a really good 2010, only to be told "we won't be buying it, as everyone says 2010 isn't any good." They said the same thing about RRV Pinot Noir in 2006, that it was "too green" and isn't good. I opened a Patz & Hall PN last light and it was exquisite. Just goes to show that the loudest collective voice isn't necessarily the one to listen to.

    • 1WineDude

      Totally agree, Richard – during the WS giveaway, the vintage chart discussion here definitely had a "use them with extreme caution" bent to them. I'm guessing from your comment that some buyers / distributors don't always exercise such foresight!

  • Randy Pitts

    I disagree that this vintage was a total wash. After reviewing the STYLE your example winery does, it becomes quite clear why they're not harvesting… 2006 CS = 14.9% PH @ 3.81!!!! It looks more like they didn't get their 26-28 brix (with 2 points of sugar up equaling 28-30ish brix). Yep folks, they didn't get breakneck, Robert Parker style numbers in the vineyards, so they decided to let the fruit rot on the vine. What a great idea. Vines don't like to have fruit left on the stems… I think it sends the wrong message as the vine becomes dormant. Hopefully, they at least dropped it before the first hard frost.

    While the quantity of fruit arriving at most wineries was WAY down in 2010, it's going to be one of the most juicy, naturally concentrated vintages in perhaps a lifetime. That's right, I promise my clients that this vintage will be one to (positively) remember. While producers of granular form tartaric acid were hurting from the lack of sales this year, the future wine will, as my young enthusiastic nephew puts it, "the bomb"!.

    GIVE ME A BREAK. 14.9% alcohol on Cab is a possible criminal act as Cab berries are tiny itty bitty spheres to begin with plump, the skins are super thick (esp this year) which means there isn't a lot of juice to begin with! The concept of allowing the little berries to shrivel in order to get the 14.9% alcohol -like #'s is pure l a m e. This is not the way Cab used to be made. Cab used to have respect. For hundreds of years, 12% was more than enough. The story not often told by mainstream wine writers and apparently the new one's a like.

  • 1WineDude

    Randy – it pains me to see someone holding back their opinion. ;-)

    I find that it's VERY difficult to offer blanket statements in the world of wine and hope to be correct – there are just too many exceptions – and if I may say so (respectfully, I hope, because that's how this is intended) I'd suggest that you might want to broaden your view a bit when it comes to those bigger Cabs.

    Now, I often find myself explaining to Left Coast winemakers why I thought their wine was opulent (often becuase they haven't tasted Right Coast or enough European wines to broaden their view, I condition I call "CA goggles" in which wines are compared only to their direct CA neighbors' and possibly don't seem quite as opulent in that narrow comparison). But I'm also playing the other side of that argument over here in Philly, and NY, and in Europe, explaining that big wines, when in balance, can be just as magical as lower abv wines – they're just different and I don't view either as superior. I'd cite HR's wines as a case of big but balanced. Maybe not your thing but as regular readers here know, I'm not gonna bash something just because it's not to my tastes (except for maybe Retsina…).

    I do need to point out one thing, because I'm confused on it and I don't want others getting the wrong impression: I've never actually said that the 2010 vintage will be a wash in all of N. CA. You can browse through the coverage of the vintage here on the blog, but in summary just about every article on it here states that the results have been very, very spotty with some areas / varieties having great / promising results, and others having a terrible, awful time. So, I guess I'm not sure with whom you're disagreeing there?


  • Thomas Pellechia

    Did they say that they left the grapes on the vines?

    Yep, I looked at my copy of the release, and it says that they left the grapes on the vines. I'm assuming they are using the phrase in a non-literal sense–I hope.

    While I generally agree with Randy, concerning the way grapes are treated at some wineries on the Left Coast, I also agree with Joe that blanket statements are problematic. I haven't come across as many as I would like, but I have come across wines in the "bigger is better" category that were handled well enough not to make me feel as if a steroid-pumped baseball player used his bat on me. Yet, I haven't found one that I'd like to take to dinner!

    So Joe, where's your "what to drink with Thanksgiving" post? Get with the program, man.

    • 1WineDude

      Thom – HA! I am actually going to do a "sort-of" take on that dreaded T-Day theme… one that I hope will inspire people to get out, taste, and make their own decisions of what to drink with their food. Stay tuned. :)

  • Andy

    From what I can tell, this year will be a serious mixed bag. In addition to my day job, I am part owner of a smaller winery and make alot of home wine from around the northern part of the state, so I''ve had contacts with growers from Mendocino to Lodi and from the coast to the Sierras. Some areas are simply remarkable (I am going to go on record now–not that anyone cares what I think — and say that the Sierra foothills below 2000ft and Lodi are going to make their best wines ever). The coastal areas and higher evlevations did not fare as well — with some area making the proverbial exceptional wine at lower ETOH (as noted above), others having their fruit scorched (also as noted above) and some not getting ripe, even by Bordeaux standards (also as noted above). The rumor is that the southern areas (Paso, Santa Barbara) have had more of the good of 2010 and less of the bad but I do not know that firsthand. I think the barrel samples next year will be very interesting

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Andy – I like throwing down the prediction on the Sierra and Lodi, Mark Messier-style!

      Once thing's for sure, we're going to need to be careful about navigating the already sometimes-confusing waters of N. CA wine brands when we buy 2010s. If we're going to see more subtle wines for a vintage, that's also totally fine by me!

    • Ron Saikowski

      Andy, In Texas, we received old vine Zin that was some of the best with wonderful Brix (26.6), taste (lots of jam), but low nitrogen. The Cab grapes we got from the Sierra Madres were similiar with Brix at 26.4, full fruit taste, mature seeds/skins and also low nitrogen. Did anyone else get grapes from California with low nitrogen. Am I sensing a possible trend?

  • Thomas Pellechia


    A trend toward H2S???

  • Lucius Columella

    I don't typically post comments, but…

    A good vineyard manager would have salvaged this "inconsistent" year. Most West Coast vineyard owners and managers, especially those in California, became accustomed to having perfect weather all year long. Throw a difficult year at them and many were confused, bewildered, and caught with their pants down.

    It seems to me that it's really, really easy to blame "mother nature" for bad vineyard practices. Don't believe the hype! Great wine is being made this year, with lower alcohols but amazing flavors and tight acidity.

    Anyone who left fruit on the vine is a lousy, rotten, no-good and lazy vineyardist. Or, someone who has too much wine in storage and doesn't want the added cost and work of producing more. Or, possibly, they've paid their crop insurance and are hoping for a cheap, quick payout.

    In looking at HR's website, I don't see that they have a professional vineyard manager listed. Its always disturbing to me to see that, since it means one of r things.

    1. There's just some dude named Juan or Mario in charge and he doesn't get any credit, or
    2. The owners or winemakers assume their genius covers all aspects of everything wine related, including viticulture, or
    3. Nobody's in charge except mother nature and when the weather isn't perfect, the grapes suffer and everyone who worked hard gets a bum rap.

    But, whatever. Assume you know everything. We who anonymously and humbly labor in the vineyards of the world are used to the hubris of those who quickly throw on some boots and grab a felco whenever a journalist comes around to ask questions about the vintage.

    • 1WineDude

      Hey Lucius – always happy to welcome a former lurker to the ranks of commenter! :)

      Great point about talented vineyard managers (and winemakers) being able to suss out great wines even in tough vintages (maybe not to the same volume as in more agreeable vintages, but certainly still hit high levels of quality in what can be produced).

  • Tom

    You hit it on the head, Lucius.
    From what I am tasting in tank, 2010 is looking like a great year for Bordeaux varieties grown throughout the hills and valleys of Napa County. The key was adjusting cultural practices in the vineyard and picking before the rain.
    I feel genuine sympathy for those who are growing grapes in very cool regions and others who got smoked by the heat spike in September. On the other hand, I feel no sorrow for those who are operating in outstanding sites and simply failed to make good decisions.

  • 1WineDude

    An interesting tidbit has just hit my Inbox, sent from a person who I consider a very knowledgeable wine industry source and who has granted me permission to use his/her words under the condition that I credit it anonymously:

    “A lot of wineries over produced 2008 and 2009, and are still trying to catch up with earlier vintages. Check out how many wineries are still trying to sell 2006 vintages and even earlier. A bunch of those wineries will claim that the 2010 harvest was too difficult, but what they are really saying is 'we have too much backlog so we're skipping this vintage and blaming the weather.' If you want a bit of proof, check the vintages being sold on 2008 SB, 2005 cab…

    The fact is that a lot of the fruit that did come in was very high quality – the late season provided plenty of hang time to develop flavors as it turned out.”

    Personally, given the recent economic AND meteorological climates, I'm willing to bet that this will be true for some producers out there; I'd of course have more respect for those producers if they simply came clean rather than using the current vintage conditions as a smoke screen of sorts.

    Anyway… interesting stuff that I wanted to share in the discussion.


  • Andy

    Ron — to me, it seems like CA fruit always has low nitrogen so I did not see anything unusual. We did see high malic acid levels though in many varieties so we did add tartaric despite (relatively) low pHs — so that the wines will still have some acidity post ML fermentation. Thus far, whats in the barrels looks really good

  • Thomas Pellechia


    Don't we love the smell of DAP in the morning…

    …and am I the only one to have picked up on the Columella/viticultural reference in the comment of the lurker above? I wonder if Lucius knows that some of his advice to Romans was real good–and some was not.

    Like I always say: know your history.

  • John

    This may be a decision that relates more to farming and the micro climates at the Hidden Ridge Vineyard than the vintage itself. There will be many great wines coming from the 2010 vintage. It will all depend on farming practices and the particular vineyard’s climate. 2010 will probably end up looking a lot like 2008. Some very good wines and some not so good wines. Come to think of it…that’s like every harvest. It is WAY to early to be determining what the 2010 harvest wines are going to show.

  • 1WineDude

    Hey Paul – one thing that 2010 will have going for it what 1998 didn't is the fragmentation and expansion of wine coverage. Call me a homer, but the on-line wine community is going to focus in on specific wines for the most part, not vintages as a whole, which is a good thing overall I think for the coverage of N. Cal.'s 2010 offerings once they're in bottle.


    • Paul Bush

      I agree, but I'm still amazed at how much the average wine customer in the tasting room is swayed by the large publications and individual articles. I think the "expansion" of wine coverage is coming slowly to many consumers out there and may not be in time to help counter the early feelings generated by stories like the one listed above. But I hope you are right.

      • 1WineDude

        True, Paul – the impact is still small, but is growing… as for whether or not it will have much impact by the time the 2010s are hitting the shelves… well, it won't be for my lack of trying! :)

        • Paul Bush


  • 1WineDude

    Great to have so many producers chiming in on this!

    Does this mean that I will be getting samples of these VG-to-amazing wines to help put these claims to the test? 'Cause you've all got my mouth watering over the potential! :)

  • John Smith

    While we sympathize with our neighbors in Napa and Sonoma, we’re happy to report that we apparently had a much sunnier summer up at 2500 feet, and even though it was ccoler than we liked, we dodged almost all the rain damage. The gorgeous Indian summer weather in late October and early November gave many of our varieties additional hang time, and we are reveling in some absolutely beautiful 2010 wines after fretting for many months. It’s great to be lucky, but it helps to be patient.

  • John Pratt

    As a winegrower myself, I would say that their decision not to make wine from the 2010 vintage says more about their inability to manage a crop in a difficult season than it does about the integrity of their winemaking business.

  • Alan Baker

    Dude, with a headline like in this post, I don't know that you can really say you're adding depth to the already overwhelmingly negative press… When a majority of readers make a judgement based on skimming headlines – this definitely comes down on the doom and gloom side (even if there was a question mark:-)

    It is tough to sell good wine from a panned vintage. I had buyers tell me they loved everything about my Cartograph '08 Pinots but the next statement was – "…can't sell them cause everybody thinks all California was awash in smoke." And I agree with those who stated that good farming saved the day for those who knew their vines this year. We dropped a lot of fruit and it hurt to see lots of Jekyll and Hyde clusters hitting the ground but it had to be done. I'm thrilled with what we've got in barrel right now. Everything under 14% with no additions.

    I can't blame their farming because I know a lot of places struggled to get some varieties ripe but I'm guessing plentiful inventory and crop insurance had a lot to do with making this decision.

    We'll see if folks who complain about overripe CA wines (myself included here) are as welcoming to this elegant vintage as we should expect.
    Alan Baker – winemaker, Cartograph

  • 1WineDude

    Understood on all counts, Alan.

    I still am of the mind that the 1WD readership looks beyond the superficial for the most part. Maybe I'm being naive, but I like to appeal to the better side of everyone, in general. We also shouldn't forget that when asked, the 1WD readers said that they mostly don't use vintage charts…

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