2011,  A Year To Think Outside The Box

As the 2011 growing season started to mature we knew it would be one of the coolest in recent memory. Then, early October brought more than two inches of rain, kicking off the harvest that will be remembered for the challenges brought on by perfect conditions for fungal growth.

I am reminded that my forty-second harvest still does not quite qualify me as an old timer when I hear long time growers relate that this was the worst rot year since the mid-1950’s. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that is pushing sixty years.  Along with the damp, foggy mornings that never seemed to dry out, came afternoon temperatures in the mid-seventies to mid-eighties;  a virtual incubator for anything fungal.

Chardonnay Beginning To Show Its Beautiful Golden Color

Challenges?  Yes.  Late Spring and early Fall rains, a cool growing season, October weather perfect for fungus growth, a delayed harvest, and labor in short supply.

Opportunities?  Yes, if you had the presence of mind to stay off the panic button and to think a little outside the box.  Those that picked early ended up with under ripe fruit that makes for tart, uninteresting wines full of challenges in the winery.  Those that had the patience to realize this was simply going to be a late harvest reaped the benefit of fruit with European elegance supported by cool season acid levels;  a combination that will reward us with longer aging wines with a finesse and elegance seldom achieved in California conditions.  In 2010 Wicker Vineyards produced our 10th Cabernet and our first Burgundy style Chardonnay.  Because of conditions in 2011 we added a Late Harvest Chardonnay and a Cabernet Port style fortified dessert wine.  Thinking outside the box.

Picking our Chardonnay in the pre-dawn hours of October 20, we found it necessary to leave nearly half our crop on the vines because of bunch rot; a tough realization for a year in which we had hoped to double our Chardonnay case production.  Close inspection in the daylight hours revealed that the remaining fruit was infected with pure, clean Botrytis; free of black or green molds or sour rot.  This clean ‘noble rot’ was the setup for an exciting opportunity; the rare production of a late harvest wine with complex, nectar-like qualities brought about by dehydration and concentration of natural fruit flavors.

2011 also brought the opportunity for us to make another Port style fortified dessert wine from our Cabernet Estate vineyard on Howell Mountain.  A 30 Brix lot of Cabernet, fortified with high quality distilled spirits from Germain-Robin will produce a luscious, fruit driven port with beautiful cognac undertones.

Thinking outside the box.  Opportunities in 2011 are allowing us to make not only our Estate Vineyard Cabernet and Chardonnay, but two additions to our offerings from a very challenging vintage.

Beautiful Cabernet Clusters Start To Ripen In September

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Not one to complain about the weather, I AM ready for the rain to move on, and the warmth of Spring to make itself known.

Our Cabernet on Howell Mt. is not yet in bloom, so I do not expect to see any damage from the rain there. By next week, when the promised warm weather arrives, we will be in bloom with perfect temperatures and no rain.

Our Chardonnay, south of Napa, however is trying to begin its bloom stage, and could be effected by the wet weather still coming this weekend. If we are at full bloom, the pollen will be ‘washed’ off and the berries for this years crop will not set. By this time next week we will have a better idea.

In the meantime, the rain is proving to be little more than a nuisance. It has complicated our mildew and botrytis bunch rot control programs, and put our vine development some where between 2009 and 2010. With 90 degree weather predicted for next week, we could start to make up the difference.

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And, the real truth is….we love cool years. Slower ripening fruit maintains better acid levels and develops ripe flavors without excessively high sugar levels. The result is Wicker Vineyards’ style of wine. Wines with style and finesse. Pretty wines that hold your attention and leave you with the feeling you just drank something with compelling flavor and a richness you will remember.

Bring it on, 2011!!!!