2012 was back to some welcome degree of normalcy after the freakishly hot and dry 2010 and the rain soaked September of 2011.
An extremely mild and dry winter gave us bud break a record 3 to 4 weeks earlier than average. Frost our biggest concern, but the mild winter continued into spring resulting in a frost-free season. A dry, warm April and May was welcomed by older vines, but concerning to young plantings. We quickly installed irrigation in our new Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon planting only to have the rains begin shortly thereafter. Flowering was still 2 to 3 weeks early, but occurred under generally favorable conditions and we were looking at a generous crop across varieties.
Mid summer was hot and precipitation was variable. The vines were never water stressed during the summer. Blocks on clay soils experienced luxuriant and to some degree, unwanted rampant growth. August is usually the time we have finished our work in the vineyard and head back to the cellar. In 2012 tropical conditions in August, beckoned us back to the vineyard to pull more leaves around bunches, aerating the cluster zones as a precaution against rot. Ultimately, clusters were healthy, but berry size was large.
Harvest began about 10 days early under typical September conditions. One day of rain was followed by a week of sun. White grapes started the harvest with refreshingly low sugars (potential alcohols in the 12% range), moderate acidities, and good aromatics.
As far as reds, Merlot was perhaps the star with crunchy red fruit, firm tannins and moderate sugars. Newly introduced Entav clones of Cabernet Franc held up very well as rains became more frequent. Their smaller berries, looser clusters and thicker skins resisted botrytis much better than the older “clone #1” planted in the 1980’s and much of the 1990’s.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot were a mixed bag, as earlier ripening sites with better drained soils matured before there was too much berry degradation. This was not the case with older vines on heavier soils as clusters began to fall apart before they were totally physiologically ripe. The weather became dry, but cool in October and any grapes left on the vines experienced sugar increases due to dehydration, but phenolic ripening had ceased. Hurricane Sandy’s timing was a non-event in the vineyard as harvest was over with the exception of Late Harvest Vidal and Petit Manseng, but the vines had shut down by then and were not adversely affected.
At the winery, sorting tables were running slowly as rot and uneven ripening were often issues. The strength of the whites was in their potential delicate balance and aromatic expression. Straightforward, minimalist winemaking, especially when oak was involved seemed to be appropriate.
The reds had good, fresh material, but were only barely phenolically ripe and in some cases lacked concentration. Saignée was used judiciously, usually in the 10 to 15% range for fear of over emphasizing tannins. Extractions were moderate with more focus on early timing of pump overs or punch downs. Fermentation temperatures were kept cooler than normal, rarely peaking above 27C (80F). Post fermentation maceration temperatures and lengths were cautious for fear of over extracting more bitter seed tannins.
Vintage 2012 should make classic, terroir driven, gastronomical wines that are ripe at low alcohols.