2010 harvest report: What will the chilly weather mean for wine?

Shriveled Zinfandel grapes
Shriveled Zin grapes | Courtesy of Press Democrat

2010 has been called “the worst ever harvest in California” with losses in the upper millions, and by some accounts, even higher. Mother Nature gave the grape industry a devastating lashing.  I experienced some of the frustrations first hand in September, while at Camp Schramsberg in Napa Valley. With temperatures continually lower than normal, the harvest started three weeks later than usual for this sparkling wine house. Why is this a big deal? Grapes destined for bubbly production are the first picked, since their acidity must be higher. So if harvest is late for that fruit, it’s much later than for grapes headed for table wines. You need warm weather and serious ripeness for fruit like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc or you’ll get green flavors that most drinkers aren’t particularly fond of.

Nope, this year, the perfect weather often touted in this state just didn’t happen. Low average temperatures, sporatic heatwaves, rain during harvest (since it started late) and what California would call “under-ripeness” (but France would call “ripe”) will be interesting to taste once it arrives in the bottle. I wonder if the “less ripe” grapes will create more austere, lower alcohol wine? Hell, wineries had to play the cards nature dealt. It could go either way — brilliant and food-friendly or watery and insipid — depending on the talent of the winemaking staff. This vintage will separate the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, the banana from the peel… stay tuned.

Full vintage reports from many different areas on the West Coast in the Wine Spectator

What Decanter Magazine thinks will happen with Napa’s wines

From the farmers’ perspective



  1. During a September 2010 visit to Sonoma, an employee of the Blackstone Winery expressed concern that only 5% of the grape harvest had picked. Now I understand the reason for his concern.

  2. Good to know I can provide some insight!

  3. Elizabeth Grant-Douglas

    I’m so glad that you aren’t writing off this vintage! It may not have been a pretty one and volume is down but there are some lovely wines still being made from it.

  4. I’m looking forward to tasting what it produces… Jordan Vineyards’ Winemaker Rob Davis said it’s the best Cabernet vintage of his career (35 years). That’s sayin’ something!


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