October 22, 2022 |
And just like that..... harvest 2022 is over
It is easy to forget, but at its most rudimentary level our business is all about farming. When we wax poetic about the intricate and infinite qualities of wine we must always circle back to the most basic elements. There is a basic and simple rule when it comes to winemaking, it takes great grapes to make great wine. It is quite easy to make poor wine out of great grapes, it is a different challenge entirely to make great wine out of poor quality grapes.
The farming aspect is often what makes the winemaking process so fascinating. We go to great lenghts to find the right location, plant the right grapes, tend them with care every step of the way and when the stars align, magic happens. Sounds simple right? Then there is this force called nature that keeps things interesting.
2022 in Sonoma County, despite the ongoing drought conditions, started out well. A mild winter and temperate spring launched the season smoothly. The dormant vines emerged from their hibernation right on cue, budding and budbreak came and went without a hitch. Decent fruit set on the vines promised even if somewhat below average yields which are a good precursor for quality. Spring changed to summer, and while much of the country baked under the mid day sun, wine country enjoyed a near perfect summer.
Preparations for harvest were smooth and leisurely, and everything was setting up perfectly. Then nature paid a visit. Just as even ripening was spreading across the region we were hit with a heatwave that lasted a week. All of a sudden, the gently ripening fruit spiked and rushed towards the finish line. Everything was ready to be picked all at once. This is where the professionals come into their own and earn their keep. He who panics is lost.
What has been a celebration of nature suddenly becomes a mathematical equation. Not only do you have to get accurate readings on the fruit in the vineyards, but you have to prepare the winery like a high speed "tetris" game where the rapid influx of fruit has to be picked, processed and then placed in the right environment for winemaking to happen. Real estate is at a premium as each wine has to find a container for primary fermentation. The white wines need to fast track and find a comfortable place as they must yield space to the reds that need longer to do their thing before moving on to barrels to complete and age.
Each lot must be evaluated and processed in a manner that will yield optimal results, as mentioned before it is all too easy to make bad wine out of good grapes. Each wine needs to be carefully escorted through its genesis to allow great wine to emerge. This is the time of year where winemaking crews are worth their weight in gold, many of them working 16 hour days with no day off for 7 weeks in a row. The best are the apex athletes of the business, and their reputations are the stuff of legends.
All this begs the question, and it is a question that we are asked repeatedly every year "so how is this years wine looking?". The honest answer is that only time will tell. You see, great wine is not just about great grapes, it is also about great artists. In a perfect year where everything follows textbook perfection, everyone should be able to make great wine, it will never get any easier, and if you fail at making great wine from the perfect season perhaps it is time to evaluate your skillset and follow a new path. The great winemaker, the great "Artists" are those supreme talents that take al the obstacles thrown before them in their stride, all the challenges that nature can present, take all the hits throughout the game and at the end of it all still make great wine.
The bottom line is, there are no bad years for wine (well unless you include prohibition). There are easy years and there are hard years, the great winemakers make great wines EVERY year. If the great winemakers cannot make a great wine, they do not make a wine period.
So be patient, rather than ask about how a wine might be, wait until you have an opportunity to judge what it has become. Then, and only then can you get a realistic answer. In a race, there are no winners until someone crosses the finish line.