Sonoma County Harvest: The News Is Good

    So, how did the harvest go in California’s Sonoma County wine region this year?

     Glad you asked.

     On November 12, the Sonoma County Vintners and Sonoma County Winegrape Commission hosted the 2nd annual Sonoma County Vintage Report, a comprehensive assessment of the vintage throughout the region’s diverse American Viticultural Areas and varietals. Paradise Ridge Winery hosted the event.

     A new element this year for the panel discussion was the addition of grape growers, each of whom was paired with a winemaker to offer an overview of growing conditions during the season.

     Nick Frey, President of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, commented, “By all accounts, 2007 is an outstanding vintage for Sonoma County – the quality is spectacular across all AVAs and varietals. Having both growers and winemakers on the panel gives a real understanding of what happened in the vineyards to make this vintage so special.”

     Peter Marks, Master of Wine, moderated the panel, which included Steve Dutton of Dutton Ranch, Dan Goldfield of Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Adam Lee of Siduri Wines, Marne Coggan of Sonatera Vineyards, Dan Barwick of Paradise Ridge Winery, Ulises Valdez of Valdez Vineyard Management, and Steve Reeder and Leland Reichel of Simi Winery.

     Steve Dutton spoke for all when he said, “The crop size was down, but we harvested beautiful, beautiful fruit this year. If someone’s not making great wine from this vintage, they’re in the wrong business.”

     Several themes recurred throughout the discussion:

     *** Low winter rainfall

     The less-than-usual amount of rain this past winter, in some cases down by about one-third, affected both the timing and size of the vintage. It caused an early budbreak, which meant that even though harvest began in mid-August, the growing season was long enough for the grapes to fully ripen, and also led to small berry size. This reduced overall cluster weight, but resulted in highly concentrated fruit.

     *** Smooth, even growing season

     Dan Goldfield commented that everything ripened really evenly this year, a sentiment echoed by the panel. Steve Reeder noted that while there were a few heat spikes in the warm Alexander Valley, they occurred before veraison and did not have an impact on quality. Otherwise, sunny weather and warm, but not hot, temperatures up to mid-August allowed the grapes to evenly develop both sugars and flavors.

     *** A tale of two harvests

     Warm weather in mid-August combined with the early budbreak to commence a fast-and-furious initial harvest. Everything seemed to be coming in at once, as early-ripening varietals were a bit late and later-ripening varietals were a bit early. Just as tank spacewas about to become an issue, fog and cool weather arrived in early September to put a temporary halt to harvest, and in many cases, put sugar development into reverse.

     Most Sauvignon Blanc was in at this point, along with some Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. Adam Lee commented, “Some Pinot Noir was ready early, and then there was a 10-day break before the rest came in. Surprisingly, there’s not much difference in flavors between the early-picked and the late-picked wines; they’re both impressive.”

     The respite in harvest was followed by sun and cooler than average temperatures, leading to a long, drawn-out harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Low humidity during this period in the second half of September and October prevented any disease pressure, allowing growers to pick only when the fruit was ideally ripe. Unlike 2006, botrytis was not an issue at all, with several panelists commenting on the exceptionally clean and healthy fruit.

     Steve Reeder stated that the relaxed pace allowed him the time to go out and taste every single block before it was picked. “What we’re looking for is physiological ripeness and flavor development, and this year we got it –  brown stems, crisp seeds, and round, developed tannins.”

   *** Quality

     Panelists uniformly enthused about the quality of the 2007 vintage. The even growing season and cool finish to the harvest allowed phenolics and flavors to keep pace with sugar development, while the small berries delivered exceptional concentration.

     Overall yield for the 2007 harvest is estimated to be 190,000-195,000 tons, well off the record-breaking 231,000 tons in 2005 and 216,000 tons in 2006.

Posted in Wine Region Profiles
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