2010 Vintage Take Away: Follow The Winemaker

March 16, 2011

Vintage 2010: Unusual, elegant and colorful.


Why all the negativity?

It is now common practice in the world of wine critiquing to declare an entire vintage as good or bad…..the quality of an entire vintage pronounced with such certainty as “Great!” or “Terrible, avoid at all costs”!   In the past (read, 1998 vintage here) the result was that wine buyers were instructed by their Corporate offices to forgo the vintage due to the reviews.  That meant wine sat in the winery, really good wine in some cases, unable to be sold without regard to the quality of the wine itself.  Now, from my perspective, applying these sweeping generalizations to an entire  vintage is a very narrow minded and somewhat arrogant way to go about reviewing wines.

Fast forward t0 2010.  There’s already been a lot of early buzz surrounding the 2010 vintage, some positive but mostly negative.  Pervasive adjectives have been thrown around by winemakers, bloggers, critics and pretty much anyone with any kind of connection to the industry. But for the most part, due to the unusual weather, 2010 is already being panned by critics.  Unfortunately, many consumers and connoisseurs are too readily going to believe what they read.  What’s not being taken into consideration is that there’s more to a vintage than just the weather.

Napa Valley in a word : Dynamic

Napa Valley is an extremely complex landscape with some of the most multifaceted soil series in the world.  The dynamic terrain that permeates the valley allows for vineyards to face North, South, East, West and everything in between.  The weather in Southern Napa Valley, is vastly different from the weather in Calistoga (Northern Napa Valley) and the continuum of climate that exists between these borders varies throughout. What it boils down to is this:  Napa Valley consists of an undetermined number of micro-environments with different soils, terrain and weather coupled with many different wine varietals planted and an infinite number of styles of winemaking used to create the amazing mosaic of wines that come from the region.  So how can a few critics really understand and know enough to pan or praise an entire vintage?

Vineyard Practices and Winemaking decisions

2010 is a great example of how a few good or bad choices in the vineyard and/or the winery can make a huge impact on quality.  Let me give an illustration of how vineyard practices alone can affect the quality of a wine from this vintage:   In 2010, many winemakers and vineyard managers overreacted to the unusually cold growing season by pulling a lot of leaves from the vine foliage to expose the grapes to sunlight to help breakdown pyrazines which cause “green” flavors to occur in cooler years.  A heat spike came along late in the growing season and essentially torched the grapes that were now overly exposed to the sunlight without proper canopy to protect the grapes.  This inevitably led to light and watery finished wines for these growers.  Unfortunately, this was a common practice all over the valley leading to poor quality wines being made.  How can we blame the vintage for this erroneous decision making?  Sure, the abnormal weather led to these decisions, but proper and balanced canopy management during this unusual growing season could have led to better wines being produced.

Napa also has a reputation for overly ripe, alcoholic wines.  This type of winemaking requires warm to hot weather during the growing season to achieve high brix and concentrated sugars.  The weather in 2010, for the most part, was not conducive to this style of winemaking and unless the winemakers and vineyard managers adjusted their style to a cooler weather year, their wines would never meet up to their desired expectations.  In essence, precedence and stubborness had handcuffed their winemaking so a stylistic adjustment to the vintage was virtually impossible.  They tried to force the grapes and vineyards to adhere to their own unbending rules instead of adjusting to make wines of a different style.  When the world handed them lemons, they tried to make orange juice.  Because of this, these winemakers let the fruit hang on the vine well into the Fall to try and obtain riper fruit…but the rains came and ended any chance of making great wines from those grapes.

Tom Eddy Wines 2010

2010 for Tom Eddy was actually a very solid vintage.  Our style, in general, is a more elegant, less ripe style in the mold of the Old World Bordeaux Reds.  We also source from mountain vineyards, some of which are south facing (meaning they get a lot of sunlight) and above the fog line.  These grapes ripened perfectly to our standards and the wines we have made from them are truly excellent.  The cold nights throughout the growing season helped to preserve acid (which we love) and color (who doesn’t love a beautiful red wine?).

The lesson here is to be wary of wine critics over-generalizing on an entire vintage, whether good or bad. I feel it is more important to buy from wineries and labels that you trust and if you can, get as much information about the wines and wineries that you spend your hard earned money on to ensure that you will be getting the great wines you know you deserve!

-Jason

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