Crush 2009: Harvest of Love

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crush.JPGBy Courtney Cochran

The mood at the Napa Valley Vintners 2009 annual harvest report Monday, October 12 at San Francisco's Waterbar Restaurant was decidedly upbeat.  Almost giddy with the news, Honig Vineyards Winemaker Kristin Belair announced that she had actually had time to watch the Giants beat the Dodgers during harvest time this year - in person. Equally thrilled with the unusually mild year and mellow harvest, Judd's Hill's Judd Finkelstein announced proudly - if a little incredulously - that he'd even had time to take his daughter to the circus last Saturday.
Room to Breathe
With time away from the vineyards and crush activity almost unheard of during typical harvest time, the message coming across loud and clear from winemakers on hand to share their experiences with this year's harvest was that it's been remarkably easy - in fact, almost bereft of the usual rush and clamor that occurs when grapes need to be brought in early due to inclement weather, be it in the form of heat spikes or the early autumn rain we sometimes experience in these parts. In all, this year saw even flowering and fruit set at the outset of the season followed by mild, mostly cool weather throughout the year - altogether key ingredients for stellar winemaking.  

For her part, Belair found the mellow year conducive to, shall we say, extra-vinous activities: "One challenge of a mild season is that there has been nothing forcing the picking decision...not too hot, there are tanks available...so it just means lots of sampling and mulling things over, checking out the moon phase or my horoscope," she noted. Or, to sum things up more succinctly, Belair went on to dub the harvest "drama free."

Balancing Act
Besides a more relaxed state of mind in general in wine country, all of this also means that vintage 2009 is shaping up to be one of the most balanced we've seen in years. To wit, Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards (who at one point waxed that this year's harvest has been "dreamy") enthused that he picked his Chardonnay as usual when flavor and pH levels signaled absolute ripeness, though the grapes' sugar level was 1-2 brix lower than usual. Since brix measurements are directly tied to a wine's potential alcohol level, this means that wines from 2009 should taste just as good as usual - but have lower alcohol than typical California vintages.

Since elevated alcohol levels - often as high as 14.5% - have become the norm in today's age in spite of protests from critics and consumers alike, this strikes me as some of the best news we've heard from Napa in quite a while. Continuing with this trend of positivity, Finkelstein underscored the strong varietal character and "bright fruit flavors" he's tasting in newly harvest fruit - further signs that superlative flavor, balance and character await in the bottle for wines harvested in 2009. For my part, I can't wait.

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