Just like the 2011 harvest, the Federal Grape Report was released very late (just yesterday).
Before we hit the numbers, just a reminder that 2011 was the third consecutive year of painfully lower-than-average heat units. For the “glass is half-full” optimists, the spin is the 2011 vintage will be reminiscent of 1980’s harvests, showing more balance and uplifting coy, secondary flavors. For the “glass is half-empty” party poopers, this vintage will hasten opening up those cellared 2005-2007 big bombs that provided more immediate gratification. Whatever your choice of opinion, let’s just be thankful you’re a “spinner.” …
The 2011 harvest can be summed up as a “recovery year” after a deep freeze over the previous winter. Many of the younger vines lost their set, thus could not produce a significant crop. Then, in some regions, a nasty mildew outbreak in the spring ruined some emerging clusters. Topping it off, the sun chose an extended vacation in Europe and Texas, leading into perhaps, the coolest summer growing temps over the last 15+ years. A late August heatwave and a mild autumn brought the heat units almost up to 2010’s low standard and that had the harvest set back at least a couple weeks, with the last grapes picked by Thanksgiving.
With the low accumulated heat over the growing season, there should be no surprise then that thermophilic varieties such as zinfandel, barbera, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and viognier did not fare as well as cooler climate grapes such as… the rest of the white wine grapes. Winemakers who advised growers to drop fruit early in the growing season were rewarded with fully-ripened grapes.
So, what to expect when the wines are released in 2013? Again, expect many reds to require several hours in the decanter. Sub-14% alcohol levels. Toned-down flavors. Longer cellaring potential. Predict more wines will fail the “wow!” factor on release.
The good news is the 2009s have begun to perform in the tasting rooms and, with that being the first “cool” vintage in the current string, expect this year’s top performer to be wines that are predominantly cabernet franc-based. Some notables with high expectations for their cabernet francs will be Dubindil Winery, Adams Bench Winery, Betz Family Winery, and Barrage Cellars.
To the numbers…
Overall, 142,000 tons of wine grapes were harvested in 2011 (down from 160,000 tons in 2010 and similar to 2008). Of that total, 78,300 tons were white varietals (down from 80,100 in 2010) and 63,700 tons were reds (way down from 79,900 tons in 2010).
Top grape harvested was white riesling, with 31,700 tons, followed by chardonnay at 28,500 tons, cabernet sauvignon at 23,100 tons, merlot at 21,900 tons, and syrah at 10,100 tons.
Pinot gris showed the biggest increase, coming in at 7,500 tons compared to 6,100 tons in 2010. Malbec, curiously, had a slight increase of 200 tons over last year’s 1,100 tons. One can suspect with the high price commanded ($1,655 per ton in 2008) that more growers added malbec to their rows but lost significant production due to the severe winter weather.
Grapes that finally received their own statistics, symbolizing their significance as a major grape instead of being lumped in with “other” include: grenache, petit verdot, and mourvedre.
A misleading statistic was the average price per ton, with white varietals averaging $794 per ton and reds averaging $1,224 per ton. Both were slight decreases year-on-year, but as small wineries know, that’s still about one-half to one-third what they pay for access to their single-vineyard gems. For consumers, the take-home lesson is do not believe any winery that justifies their price increases from higher commodity prices. That’s just bullshit.
And, all things considered, with a warm winter in the greater Columbia Valley AVA, let’s hope for Alby Gore’s hypothesis of “global warming” to make an overdue appearance to our glacial shores. After all, when Washington receives heat units in the 2700-3300 range, all California can do is grow Thompson Seedless and Malvasia. And that can only be a good thing!