2009 California Wine Vintage is High in Quality and Quantity
Harvest Yields Excellent Results; Market Faces Challenges
SAN FRANCISCO — The 2009 California winegrape harvest brought in an estimated 3.7 million tons, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture crop forecast. Abundant spring rains abated winter drought concerns, and a relatively temperate growing season throughout most of the state produced excellent fruit quality. A mid-October rain caused some concern for those who still had Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot on the vines, but for the most part, the tough-skinned, loose-clustered varietals weathered the storm. Beautiful Indian summer weather followed the rainy, humid conditions, allowing the grapes to reach optimum maturity.
“2009 proved to be a fantastic harvest year for all of our California wineries,” said Vince Bonotto, Vice President Vineyard Operations at Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines. “On the North Coast, the cool, mild weather caused maturity to slow, which led to great flavors, especially with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Our Bordeaux grapes could have seen some potential challenges due to late rains, but luckily we had most of our Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in before those rains began. The Central Coast experienced a dry winter and cool spring and summer leading to slow maturing fruit, again leading to tremendous quality. We’re thrilled with the quality of the fruit.”
“It was a one in 10-year kind of harvest,” said Joe Norman, assistant winemaker at Heitz Wine Cellars in Napa Valley. “The fruit came in without a rush, ripening slowly and showing good fruit quality. All the sensitive grapes were in before the October rain.” In Lodi, David Lucas, owner/winemaker of Lucas Winery, had a similar reaction. “We have been making wine for 33 years, and 2009 will be our fourth Reserve Zinfandel,” he said. “If winegrowers were judicious in their farming practices, it was an ultra premium year for Lodi.” Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery in Paso Robles is also pleased with the 2009 vintage. “We do make reserve wines when we have a special vintage, but we never make a determination for more than a year after harvest,” he said. “This year, we are already talking about making a reserve.”
Although the vintage excelled, the marketplace proved more challenging. “The economic effects and fear of inventory impacted the market for grapes and bulk wines, especially at the luxury end,” said Steve Fredricks, Managing Partner of Turrentine Brokerage in Novato. “However, bulk inventory is in line, there isn’t too much or too little at the value end. The total volume of wine in bulk actively for sale today is about the same as last year. We will see an increase in wines listed for sale in the next few months because the 2009 harvest was larger than 2008, and people are very pleased with the quality of 2009 wines,” said Fredricks.
”Glenn Proctor of Ciatti Company in San Rafael also commented on the marketplace in 2009: “It was a tough year in the sense that everyone was extremely cautious before making any buying decisions. The value category was less impacted by the recession than the high value category, and there continues to be growth in this sector. Sales in the less than $10/bottle price point are relatively healthy,” said Proctor. “The crop was a little bigger than we thought—it was the second largest harvest after the record high of 3.76 million tons in 2005. The value category needs the quantity to continue to supply enough product,” he stated.
“Despite the tough economic conditions worldwide, consumers continue to enjoy wines from our California wineries,” said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, President and CEO of Wine Institute. “They can look forward to the exceptional quality of the 2009 California vintage.”
Harvest 2009 Quotes
Axel Schug, Managing Partner, Schug Carneros Estate
It was a very nice vintage. The quantity on our own estate was the highest since 1977. The quality was also quite high. Our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were all picked by mid-September. We were worried during the rains in October about the remaining Cabernet and Merlot, but the Cabernet was not harmed by the rains and looks fabulous. The rain actually extended the hang time. We selectively picked Merlot in early November. The bright fruit in our Carneros grapes was very well developed with nice concentration and gorgeous acid balance.
Matt Huges, Winemaker, Six Sigma Vineyards and Winery
The 2009 vintage looks like the best in Lake County for the last five years. The grape tonnage was normal with great flavor intensity. It was a very mellow summer leading into the harvest, and then it got super hot in August and then turned cold. In 4-5 days, the temperature went from 100 degrees and then flipped, and we had frost. Then we had the rain in October. Half of our Cabernet was picked before the rain, and we were the last in Lake County to harvest Cabernet when we picked Else’s Vineyard at the end of October. Else’s Vineyard Cabernet is the best to come out of the ranch. The promise is huge. It was a roller coaster harvest, but we came out on the upside, and the consensus is that the vintage is really great.
Earl Ault, Owner & Winemaker, Cedar Mountain Winery
2009 was a sound vintage for Livermore. A Middle Region II, Livermore has a climate similar to Yountville in Napa Valley. The cooler summer delayed harvest a couple of weeks, and we started picking the first week in September. Highs were in the 90s in September, and we had no heat in October, allowing for nice slow ripening and a stretched out harvest. In October, we had about 2 to 3 inches of rain, but it didn’t do anything except make it more difficult to get into the vineyard. Our Chardonnay is textbook this year, and the Sauvignon Blanc has a pretty blue-green color with citrus and gooseberry flavors. The Cabernet is great. This is a beautiful climate for Cabernet, and we have a lot of it.
David Lucas, Owner & Winemaker, The Lucas Winery
2009 was an excellent growing year in Lodi, very similar to the North Coast. It was a cool, moderate vintage with rapid growth and a large crop. If growers were judicious, it was a superb vintage in Lodi. For our winery, we removed weak shoots and thinned aggressively to two tons an acre for quality, preserving natural acidity in the grapes. We had good color and flavor development in the Zinfandel and Cabernet. The Lodi winegrowers who still had grapes hanging were challenged in October with almost 3 inches of rain and humidity for the following week. It was necessary to thin out the vines after the storm. While putting the Zinfandel to barrel, the huge aromatics saturated our chai. In our vineyard-designated wines, we are seeing richly structured wines with nice, dusty tannins.
Paul Dolan, President, Mendocino Wine Company
The 2-1/2 inches of rain in May filled the profile significantly and helped support the bigger wine grape crop in Mendocino. In the latter part of September, Ukiah and Hopland were extremely warm, with temperatures over 100 degrees for seven days straight. At one point, Brix degrees were rising by one point a day. It was a fast harvest but shows good quality. The acid and pH are in good balance. Some Petite Sirah and Cabernet were still hanging on the vines during the October rain. We got the Petite Sirah off right away, but waited another two weeks before harvesting the Cabernet. This was a welcomed vintage, considering the frost and smoke of 2008. It was a fast, warm season where we got great intensity of color, flavor and tannin ripeness.
Michael Blaylock, Winemaker, Quady Winery
2009 started out gangbusters with a very unusual spring heat spell, and we thought the harvest was going to be early. Most everything had already bloomed out when the temperature soared over 100 degrees, but the heat didn’t actually speed up the growing season. It turned into a normal year. The pace of harvest was nice, even and steady. The whites came in right on time. We started picking the end of August and had all the reds in before Halloween. We were done when the October rains arrived. At Quady, we start harvest earlier as we specialize in sweet aperitif wines. The balance in the Muscat grapes was better than normal with lower pH and higher acid. The fruit was very nice and beautiful aromas surrounded the crusher. Many of the growers in Madera and Fresno are spending more time working on sustainable farming practices. We lost a lot of farms in the past few years, and the growers are paying more attention to what varieties are most viable.
Robert Cook, Winemaker, Chalone Vineyard
If I had to describe vintage 2009 in one word, it would be opulent. I’m so pleased with this vintage. The weather stayed consistent so everything ripened at the same time. We stormed through harvest in about three weeks this year! The Chardonnay looks beautiful, the Syrah is incredible and the Pinot Noir is its happy self. 2009 was a fantastic year.
Joe Norman, Assistant Winemaker, Heitz Wine Cellars
Our winemaking team found 2009 to be a terrific harvest. It was a one in 10-year harvest. The fruit came in without a rush, ripened thoroughly and showed good fruit quality. All the sensitive grapes were in before the October rain. The Cabernet was unaffected by the rain. We cannot tell the difference between Cabernet picked before or after. Cabernet has loose clusters, and once the rain cleared, the fruit dried out very well, coming in clean and in great shape. The 2009 fruit shows intensity and clarity of flavors, aromas and length. We ended harvest with a smile.
Gary Eberle, General Partner & Winemaker, Eberle Winery, LTD.
We are very pleased with the 2009 vintage—the colors and aromatics are great. The early part of the growing season was uniform, and then we had a hot spell in September. When the rain came in October, everything was in except Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet is bullet proof. Overall, the harvest was very even, with grapes coming in an orderly fashion. It made for a long crush but was not hectic. We are most impressed by the Cabernet colors and balance in the mouth.
Louis Lucas, Owner & Winemaker, Lucas and Lewellan
We had abundant quantity and quality in Santa Barbara in 2009. We had good weather for fruit set in May; timely rains in February and March; and a cool summer with heat spikes arriving in September to help move the ripening along. The Pinot Noir—picked before the October rain—looks exceptional, showing very good color with cherry and blueberry flavors in the wines. The 2009 Chardonnay crop made up for what we lost to frost in 2008. The flavors are good. The mid-October 1-3/4-inch rain interruption was followed by 90-degree weather. The Cabernet came in clean, ripening in the Indian summer weather for extended hang time until we finished picking in November. 2009 was a good vintage. Except for the rain, the weather was pretty much what we would want.
Santa Cruz mountains
David Bruce, Owner, David Bruce Winery
David Bruce Winery has experienced three remarkable years in a row; 2009 was amazing. How do we rate 2009? Let the wines speak for themselves. Small berry size, intense varietal flavors, rich and velvety tannins. How would I define a Great Wine? One with wonderful varietal characteristics and the ability to hold those characteristics for a long period of time. The 2009 Santa Cruz Mountain Estate wines have that Noble Robe; that velvety texture denoting a great abundance of the highest quality tannins and a cacophony of fruit, floral, spice and minerality. Let’s be honest. 2009 is a great year!
Paul Sobon, Winemaker, Shenandoah Vineyards & Sobon Estate
The Shenandoah Valley had a cool summer and long growing season. Temperatures started to warm up the first part of September, resulting in a nice start to harvest with normal maturity for the white grapes. On October 13, we had 2 inches of rain, with 50 percent of the grapes still out in the vineyards. After the storm, the wind came up and dried out the vines. The parched soil soaked the moisture right up. There were no rot problems, the grapes had great color and maturity, and harvest was normal from then on until we finished in late October. Yields were 5-8 percent above normal. The quality is phenomenal, as good as or better than 2008. We specialize in Viognier, and the long growing season produced honeysuckle and tropical aromas and flavors. Zinfandel had a long hang time with the wines showing blackberry fruit. We are very pleased with the vintage.
Louis M. Foppiano, Owner, Foppiano Wine Co.
We are very happy with the 2009 vintage. It was a very easy season and went smoothly. We had all the grapes in before the October rains except for Cabernet. All the wine is in barrel and the quality looks great. It was nice to have such an outstanding vintage coincide with my dad’s 99th birthday.
Les Linkogle, Owner & Winemaker, Briar Rose Winery