A Balanced Vintage – Part 1 – Temperature

We know it is difficult to have a great wine in a bad vintage, but a great season doesn’t always guarantee a great wine.

It requires just as much work and thought along the way.

Grapevine in Napa ValleyEspecially when mother-nature is concerned.

All season long the vines are manipulated.  When it’s wet, we cut the canopy (leaves) allowing direct sunlight to naturally dry the grapes to prevent mold.  And, when it’s hot, we leave the canopy longer to cover the berries and protect against sunburn.  Sometimes, you even remove fruit if the leaves are working too hard to ripen it (fruit dropping will assure concentration in sugar and flavor.) All the while, you are helping the vine achieve balance to allow the fruit to mature to its full potential.

This is why I rarely like to see vintages summed up in broad sweeping terms.

But, I will shock you all and say: this vintage was great and easier to maintain both in the vineyard and winery.

Yes, great.Picking Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from vines in Napa Valley

If you look up ideal conditions for VIRUS VINIFERA in a viticulture textbook-you will see a description of this vintage.

Let’s take temperature for starters.

Balance in weather is just as important as balance in a fine wine.  Vines use photosynthesis to create energy to ripen grapes. Like little solar panels, this is what the leaves are for. Obviously they need sunshine, but this is not enough. For a leaf to achieve photosynthesis, the time and temperature in the sun is extremely important. If temperatures fall below 50 or sail above 95 degrees, photosynthesis shuts down.  And, the leaves need to be the right age (not young little sprouts, but not getting ready to turn colors and fall). So, basically we are looking for these temperatures within a four month window from mid-April to mid-August.

This is exactly what we had this year.

What does this mean for the wine?  High temperatures create high sugars with low acidity in the fruit. If you harvest grapes with these characteristics your resulting wine will be high in alcohol with a high pH – or a flabby, rich, alcoholic wine.  If temperatures are too cool, your fruit doesn’t ripen enough and you harvest grapes with a high level of acidity, which will provide you with a wine that is extremely bright with green characters.

But, this year our temperature was nice and even with few fluctuations. The more even and longer the growing season the more gradually the grapes can ripen. This allows for complex flavors and aromas to develop, and sugars and acid to come into balance.
As in life – balance is the key!