Here on the West Coast, 2011 was one of the most stressful harvests on record.
Late, cool and wet, it was a lesson in what can, and did, go wrong - with a thin but real silver lining.
Late: Vines remained dormant several weeks longer than usual, pushing back bud break, berry set, maturation, veraison and ripening. Not necessarily a bad thing on its own, a late start puts grapes at risk for late ripening which means fall must be flawless. And the stress begins…
Cool: Temperatures stayed well below normal through most of the growing season. Where oh where was the intense heat that gives the Napa Valley its prized differentials between day and night, and forces the grapes to give up their innocent color and stringent tannins? Too hot and the grapes turn to raisins before they’re ripe; too cool and they just won’t ripen. The tension builds…
Wet: Full-on rainstorms persisted into the traditionally dry months of May, June and again in September and October - smack dab during flowering, and immediately before and during harvest, threatening tons of fruit with uneven ripening, mold and other unwelcome detractors.
A vintage like this separates great winemakers from the not-so-great. It called on every ounce of experience our veteran winemaker’s distinguished history. To some, “winemaking” takes place in the cellar. At Pahlmeyer, it includes trudging through vineyard row after vineyard row making detailed decisions according to each vine’s needs. And it is this careful regimen of identifying the best clusters, following up with meticulous leaf thinning and fruit dropping (among other painstaking practices), that gave those good clusters the air flow and sunlight they needed to ripen fully.
With all the shatter and dropping, the yield was light this year. Intensive quality control on the sorting table (discarding imperfect fruit) made it even lighter. But here’s that silver lining: with berries ripening at half their usual size, the amount of contact between the fruit’s flesh and its skin was significantly increased. And grape skin provides the lion’s share of the flavor and tannic structure in wine.
There’s no question case production from the 2011 vintage will be small. But in Pahlmeyer wines at least, expect exceptional concentration and structure.