Journalists in Bordeaux are saying the 2011 harvest is all about the sort. This axiom is even more true in Virginia. Where 2010 was a great year in which you would have to work really are to make a bad wine, 2011 was fraught with peril. It started with late frost, and then a stink bug filled hot summer (hot and dry is good, but not necessarily 100+ degrees), the growing season ended with hail, hurricanes and lots of late rain.
Of course that is the outsider's view, at CellarBlog we like hearing from the winemakers directly. We have reports from Stephen Barnard at Keswick Vineyards and Jordan Harris at Tarara Winery.
But we would love more reports. If you are a winemaker or winery owner in Virginia and want to share your thoughts on the harvest drop me an e-mail.
First up, Stephen Barnard:
Harvest was tough, lots of rain and little sunshine leading up to picking. Fruit came in a bit premature and we dropped a lot of fruit to control mold. The wines will be a lighter, more approachable style that will not need years of aging.
Viognier and Chardonnay look great, Merlot and Norton as well on the
Next, Jordan Harris:
The 2011 harvest is one that is truly intriguing and challenging. Some will start right out of the gate saying that the vintage is poor, but there is so much that goes into the vintage.
For starters we had a brilliant summer. We all seem to have forgotten that this vintage in Northern Virginia was starting to look like almost a combination of 2010 and 2007 until the rain started at harvest. That is bittersweet. It meant there was already some great movement for flavor development and overall physiological for the time of year, but the problem was they still weren't quite ready when the rains started. Since they were so close, the skins were soften and there was easy splitting and therefore rot conditions.
For those that carry a lower yield I think they will benefit more this year as there fruit had better development prior to any rain. The problem then simply becomes and issue of diluted flavors that were there as apposed to simply never getting the flavor development on heavier
The statement that this is the year that the winemaker earns their money in my belief is hugely flawed. Winemakers are no more important this year then any other year. What is crucial is having a great team of like minded people. That includes owners, managers, winemakers, cellar crew, vineyard managers, vineyard crew and sales team. Everyone needs to be on the same page as to the style of wine the vintage is best to produce, especially your sales team. The owners/managers have to either decide that they are more inclined toward saving expenses and over-producing in an off year, or they need to be on board with the fact that there will be some crop losses and declassifications to make quality wine. The vineyards crew and manager need to agree and understand the winemaker in how the crop should be cared for and harvested. Then the winemaker and cellar crew have to do what they do every year. Don't screw up the work of the others. This year we did
make some changes to our winemaking style like use of enzymes and commercial yeast, shorter red fermentations and vatting time, cooler white ferments, cleaner juice at racking for ferments, making more Rose, and heavier Saignee. The real different came in that we had to do so many passes in the vineyards, we left a lot of fruit behind only picking what was great. There was many passes simply to drop more fruit that had some rot issues to allow the remaining fruit to ripen. Picking windows have also been altered hugely with some varieties being extremely late from certain sites (we just got some Viognier yesterday) and some extremely early (we had some Petit Verdot off on September 30th).
The only thing that we are doing that is a major change in winemaking is that a portion of our Bordeaux reds are all going through Appasimento to help regain some concentration to allow the flavors that have developed to express themselves.
All and all I think there will be extremely varied results all over the state this year, but some of the wine in our cellar is looking pretty good. Better then once expected anyway. There will be some wines of great elegance with brighter acidity, some they will show that earlier
ripening of the summer and some will simply be dilute or even worse flawed. It takes a great team to ensure you are on of the better examples. It won't be a classic year, but it also is not 2003 which some are comparing to. It had it's own challenges and it will also have some rewards.