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Vintage 2013: Looks like one for the books

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I am increasingly excited by prospects of a great vintage in California for 2013.

Longtime readers of mine know that my view of vintages is that, in general, you can’t really tell the overall quality until a number of years have passed and you’ve tasted enough wines in bottle to see how they’re actually doing, as opposed to how you thought they should be doing. It’s true that most wine periodicals, including Wine Enthusiast, ask us writers to predict the quality of a vintage almost as soon as it’s over, but I’ve always striven to let readers know that such appraisals are at best preliminary educated guesses.

The last time I felt in my bones that a vintage was great, and that predictions of its quality didn’t need to be hedged, was 2007. Even at the time, I was calling it “the vintage of the century,” and  quoting winemakers who were similarly excited. Jason Drew, at Drew Family Cellars, had told me “It’s hard for me to contain myself,” he was so pleased. True, some rain came by early October, as it almost always does; but, as I noted at the time, “Luckily, once it stopped raining, warm sunshine came back and late ripeners, like Cabernet, dried out.” And indeed, 2007 has turned out to be one of those perfect California vintages where the wines were opulent right out of the bottle, but also ageworthy.

This year has been even better. Steady-as-she-goes might be the byword. There was no killer frost in the spring, no wildfires to give smoke taint to the grapes, very little in the way of heat waves, no huge production as there was last vintage, and as for that pesky rainstorm a few weeks ago, despite some concerns at the time, all it ended up doing was washing the dust off the grapes.

I always say that grapes like the same kind of weather we humans do; and we humans have been liking this summer, especially the last two months, which are the crucial ones from the harvest’s point of view. I emailed my friend, our local Channel 2’s morning meteorologist, Steve Paulson, to ask him, “I know that Sept-Oct are always described as our best weather months [in California]. But, after 35 years in the Bay Area, I can’t remember more gorgeous weather than this year. Except for that weird storm a few weeks ago (which actually was good for the grapes), the weather has been spectacular. Do you agree?” Steve replied, “I would agree! Sept/Oct. 2013 has been beautiful. Best I can remember too. Cool nights, sunny and mild to warm days. No extremes either way. The ‘weird’ rain was great in my mind. Loved it. After nearly 9 months of no rain, it was what I hope is a good sign for more ran this Winter.” So even the weatherman knows which way the wind is blowing.

For those of you who don’t know, Steve’s reference to “nearly 9 months of no rain” underscores the severity of the drought that is gripping California the last two years. The Central Coast has been hard-hit; reports of not enough water for the grapes have been coming in for months. And just the other day, Western Farm Press reported on widespread “trepidation” among growers of all crops (not just grapes) due to “not know[ing] if they will have water…next season.”

At any rate, whatever late ripeners are left on the vine should be gathered in the next few weeks under fine, sunny skies. The next eight days or so will see continued warm [but not hot] days, with clear skies and breezy conditions. As for the winter of 2013-2014, Steve Paulson’s hope for more rain seems to be in the offing: AccuWeather is predicting that “From December through January, California will enter a period of heavy precipitation resulting in much-needed relief from the extreme drought.”

Nicholas  Miller, of the family that owns the Bien Nacido and other vineyards in Santa Barbara County, says of 2013, “From a quality perspective, this is what people dream of!” I’ll just add that, even before tasting a single barrel sample from 2013, I predict that this vintage will be one for the history books.

  1. Steve:

    As grape growers and winemakers we are programmed to be pessimistic (until all the fruit is in and ferments done), and as winesellers, every vintage is the vintage of the century.

    At the risk of jinxing myself, 2013 is shaping up to be the best vintage in the Livermore Valley since I started here in 1996. Bloom and set was compact and even, the weather has been wonderfully temperate, and we are harvesting Cabernet 30 days earlier than last year.

    We actually have significantly more crop from our best blocks to deal with compared to last year (due to increased bunch and berry size). So, assuming we don’t screw up in the cellar (I know…dangerous to assume….), 2016 should see the release of some great BDX offerings from Lineage and Steven Kent.

  2. Every harvest seems to have its own story. But 2013 in Mendocino County we are seeing two different stories. The “early harvest” was fast and furious with grapes ripening ahead of schedule (mostly due to a warm summer). But when the rain fell Sept 20/21 the grapes took a long pause in the ripening process. After two weeks of minimal sugar accumulation many reds but even some whites were suddenly BEHIND schedule. And when the wineries are finally calling for the fruit, the brix are modest (some cab is being picked at 22.5) but the flavors are great. Sugar-poor but flavor-rich is a promising start for some great wines.

  3. Steve , I believe you are spot on with your early assessment of the 2013 vintage….It was the earliest start in my 48 years of making wine in Sonoma and the earliest finish….The flavors were there when we picked and seemed to increase dramatically as the new wines came off of fermentation….All in all , certainly as good as you could ever hope for….Which is nice for both the winemaker and the consumer as well. Bottom line ,I’d opt for a vintage like this each and every year….that kind of boredom I could live with. Best regards, Richard Arrowood , Amapola Creek Vineyards and Winery

  4. For 33 vintages (my first harvest of 1980), there has always been a great harvest in California (with the myriad of climates, topography and growing conditions) There is one thing though that really has stood out this year, and amazingly so with some of the heavy crop loads: Super quality! Good and bad I suppose (depending on which side of the fence that you’re on). For the consumer, they are going to have a heyday in value and quality if we producers do our jobs right. On the average, all of our fruit coming out of the Lodi appellation for Oak Ridge has been deeper in color, riper in tannic structure, and is proving to develop mature fermentation characters early. Where other areas may be suffering for ripeness, we’re fortunate that the only variety that we’ve suffered sugar in at all is some of the Zin crop which was promptly moved into the much needed white Zin inventories. For the Red Zin and other reds, very, very nice with stand-out quality Chards this year. We are extremely happy with the 2013 harvest!

  5. How soon we forget! 2012 was and is stellar, and the only downside was some growers overcropping, presumably to make up for 2011.
    While the 13′s from the same vineyards seems more dense, and chewy, the 12′s have the amazing flavors along with that ethereal finesse quality that is so hard to achieve without mother natures help. (at least in RRV & SC Pinot Noir)…

    Eric-
    Roadhouse Winery

  6. Yes, a great vintage. Here in the Fort Ross/Seaview appellation everything is going well. All the grapes coming in so far have looked wonderful. The Estate zin is still a week out. But no rain is expected. A big vintage too. huh, how about that/ life is good.
    Come taste the wine in a year or so.

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