2010 vintage, revisited
The 2010 vintage was one of the most peculiar I ever saw. (2011 was too.) It was, in short, cold. Californians aren’t used to chilly summers, and neither are grapes. The resulting wines were problematic.
That the harvest was problematic is testified by numerous statements from winemakers. Hidden Ridge, a fine winery that straddles the Mayacamas on the Napa-Sonoma border, declassified the entire vintage. A Napa vintner, who did not want to be identified, called the valley’s Cabernets “weak,” the problems being “high pH, low acid and a lack of concentration,” which is not a formula for success. I had a discussion, on Nov. 5 of that year, with the winemaker and assistant winemaker at Merryvale that boiled down to this question: how disastrous was 2010? Their conclusion was that, just because the Cabernets are “minty” and “herbal” doesn’t necessarily mean the wines are not of high quality.
That’s an interesting assertion. It harkens back to the notion that a vin de terroir will display its nobility even in a poor vintage. I suppose that’s true; and for sure, a wine like Lafite generally will perform better than its neighbors in a poor vintage, all other things being equal. Still, faced with the choice of drinking a mediocre noble wine and a rich common wine, I’d probably choose the latter.
Back to 2010: In my Vintage Diary I quoted the Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper, in late October, with this nightmare statement: “2010 was the worst grape harvest in recent memory, with financial losses possibly setting new records in the county…Many growers are still assessing their financial losses from crop damage that began with a mid-season mold outbreak and worsened with an August heat wave that scorched grapes and ruined entire fields…Last weekend’s rain added to an already miserable season. It spawned mold…Damaged fruit was left hanging on the vine.”
This awful scenario was repeated up and down the coast. Pinot Noir in particular suffered from mold. Now, when I do reviews, I’m not supposed to use the word “mold,” because I don’t have the ability to send wines to a laboratory and have them properly tested. But I can tell you that dozens and dozens of 2010 Pinots smell moldy to me. Keep in mind, I could quote certain Pinot Noir winemakers, some of them very famous, who told me, in the Fall of 2010, how fine their Pinot grapes were; but you’d rightfully mistrust those statements as being biased, because they are. The proof is in the smell.
Having said that, the best Pinot Noir houses produced some mighty good wines. This had to have been the result of careful selection, thereby diminishing case quantities from what was already a short harvest. Some of my personal favorite 2010 Pinot Noirs include Rochioli West Block, Foxen Block UU Bien Nacido, Siduri Hirsch (that must have given Adam Lee some anxious moments), most of Lynmar’s Pinots, and an interesting Sandhi Sanford & Benedict.
And Cabernet? Not looking good. I was shocked, just now, to go over every 2010 Cab I’ve tasted so far and discover that I’ve given only one of them 90 points. Everything else was in the 80s. I don’t think that would have been true of any previous Cabernet vintage, at this point, 17 months after the harvest. Of course, most of the top tier Cabernets haven’t been released yet, so there’s hope, but I think we’ll look back at 2010 and conclude it wasn’t a good year for Cabernet, either.
That doesn’t mean the top houses won’t produce splendid Cabs. I would think the best will come from the warmer regions. East Oakville, for example, could reward; ditto for Pritchard Hill, Calistoga, and St. Helena. Yountville might be compromised, and the mountains, including Spring, Diamond and Veeder. I’ll try to resurrect this post in two years and see if my prognostications bear any resemblance to reality.