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.