The key factor for 2009 is the big rainstorm that hit California around October 13. Until then, the growing season had been nearly perfect, and much like 2002, with no sustained spells of unseasonable weather from April through September. As in 2008, we had a few days over 100F in mid-May. This year, that interfered with the set in many varieties, principally Cabernet Sauvignon, reducing yield, but otherwise had no impact. More on yield later.
Grapes brought in before the storm--and that is close to all of them--benefited from all that great weather and will provide winemakers with the quality they need to make great wines. The storm has passed now and the ground is beginning to dry out. Mountaintop vineyards that remain unpicked may be done for this year, as they got hammered by the rain. But most vineyards are likely to recover, and mildew pressure is low despite the humidity.
Chances are good, therefore, that wines made from the later-ripening Cabernet-family of grapes will be fine despite the storm, but we will have to wait to know for sure. In the meantime, you can look forward to delicious 2009 whites and non-Cabernet reds such as Pinot noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, and so many others.
We are big fans of the wines from eastern Washington, so we were sad to learn that the area was hit by a hard frost on October 10. As with our storm, winemakers claim (and hope!) that the grapes still on the vine will not be affected, but we find it hard to believe. It is mostly Cabernet that is still out there. Yet another reason to try Washington Syrah!
Hundreds of wildfires raged across California in summer 2008. Where fires burned near vineyards, the fruit often took up compounds that led to unpleasant flavors in the wines. These flavors, referred to generally as "smoke taint," range from a pleasant smokiness that might have come from a toasted barrel to the not unpleasant but overpowering smell of a campfire, to the downright nasty smell of a stale ashtray. Not every wine was affected, and even wines made from different parcels of an affected vineyard could have very different levels of taint. Still, we advise readers to buy 2008 Pinot noir from Sonoma and Mendocino counties only after tasting the wines for themselves.
Image from www.nerve.com No attribution information provided. Please contact us to add, change or remove this image and information.
Australian experience with wildfires and smoke taint indicates that vines may store the compounds for release into the grapes in the following season. That is, grapes could have smoke taint even though there were no fires nearby this year. Fortunately that did not happen. The Pinots from areas affected last year are free of smoke taint this year.
Yield and the Economy
We mentioned above that hot weather in May reduced yield in Cabernet Sauvignon. This seemed terrible at first, given that the 2008 Cabernet crop was also light (in 2008 due to late frosts). However, it may have been for the best. The economic meltdown has put many wineries out of business and made it difficult for other wineries to access cash. In what looks to be a great year for quality, many grapes are going unpicked for want of buyers. Napa Cabernet, which has averaged more than $4,500/ton for the last several years, is now offered for barely $1,000 with no takers. Very sad for the growers, and for consumers, who will face consecutive years of little Cabernet, albeit of high quality.