2010 was a good year for whites and an outstanding year for reds. The winter was the snowiest since the mid-1990s with as much as 3 feet of snow on the ground. For many weeks it was not possible to get into the vineyards to prune. Even though we were behind schedule, we were planning on a very late start to spring with the ground so cold and wet. This was not to be the case.
Very hot dry conditions that were to be the hallmark of the entire growing season began in April. Bud break was two weeks early. An unexpected frost in early May damaged the lowest plantings of Riesling and Vidal. This was the first damaging frost in Hardscrabble’s 26-year history.
Flowering was almost three weeks early with hot dry conditions continuing. Fruit set was good in all varieties with the occasional exception of Merlot, which had very scraggly, loose clusters in some blocks.
Dry conditions reduced shoot growth, so only one light hedging was needed. Leaf pulling was kept to a minimum to avoid excess sun and heat on the clusters. Weed control and mowing was more meticulous than usual in order to reduce water competition with the vines. Fungicide sprays were minimal and terminated in July. A few critical rains in August prevented the vines from serious drought stress, but some of the young vines struggled to fill the canopy and started to yellow their basal leaves.
Seyval harvest began on August 13, almost 2 weeks earlier than the previous record of August 26, and 3 weeks earlier than the average start date of September 5. As with most of the white wine grapes, the sugars were high, acids low, flavors good. Grapes were very clean and healthy. The concern was that there was a lack of freshness and verve in the juice due to ripening under hot conditions.
The red grapes ripened fully. The biggest concerns were over-ripeness and excessive alcohols. Skin tannins took a while to ripen, so we had to look at the trade-off of ripe tannins vs. over mature flavors and high sugars. Seeds were very ripe. Merlot was the trickiest with potential alcohols of over 15% in some blocks. Significant rainfall totaling almost 7 inches came at the end of September. Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot were still hanging. Fortunately the vines had more or less shut down at this point so there was very little uptake of water (which actually may not have been a bad thing). Petit Verdot skins were compromised, but Cabernet hung well. Red harvest was complete by the first week of October.
At this writing (December 26, 2010) the whites are showing well despite high alcohols and low acids. Chardonnay is the most promising and Vidal Riesling the most unusual. The reds are blockbusters. Merlots are a bit awkward as the heat of the alcohol is bringing out some bitterness to the finish. Cabernet Sauvignon is the star with great balance, depth, and a very long, intense finish. Blending trials will begin in January.