NAPA VALLEY 2010 & 2011 VINTAGE REPORTS by Bryant Family Vineyards, Colgin Cellars and Harlan Estate
Marc GAGNON, winemaker / Bryant Family Vineyard
Budbreak began in the last week of March at Bryant. It was about 2-3 weeks later than an average year. Flowering and fruit set followed similarly postponed 2-3 weeks as the weather remained cool through the spring and into the heart of the growing season. With only a few heat spikes in August and September. The berries were small in size and reached an optimal ripeness steadily. At the estate, all blocks were picked within the third week of October. The non-estate Bettina blocks began to be picked the first of October through the end of the third week of October.
The overall long cool growing season produced wines of intense density along a brooding more dark fruit and savory spectrum while beautifully expressing varietal nuance and complexity.
The 2011 vintage had a similarly late bud-break to 2010 being in the last week of March. Onset of bloom pushed back to the end of May and, due to varying cool and hot weather, heavy shatter occurred – reducing yields between 25-35%. Temperatures during the growing season were on par with the preceding 2009 and 2010 vintages. With heavy shatter and another cool year expected to unfold, cluster and canopy management was of utmost importance to maximize photosynthesis and produce optimal quality in the fruit.
Patience and intense vineyard management was rewarded as we picked our estate over two weeks: October 17th to November 2nd. The expressions of the different terroirs of our non-estate vineyards were intensified in 2011, with harvest starting in the warmer sites as early as October 3rd, and the cooler sites as late as November 3rd.
I find the wines of 2011 with an elegance and grace that harks back to earlier years of Napa Valley; wines that I originally fell in love with and drew me to this region. I love the remarkable freshness and enhanced savory aspects that the 2011s bring in spades and will carry them through their undeniably long lives.
Allison Tauziet, winemaker / Colgin Cellars
The 2010 was a relatively long, yet cool growing season. At our vineyard sites, the canopies were moderate to higher vigor, which was a blessing in a cooler year as it ensured we had the right size “engine” to ripen the fruit. A healthier canopy also contributed a very nice level of acidity. In 2010 we saw moderate crop levels. The fruit contained extraordinary amounts of flavor and color, which were all preserved beautifully up to the moment of picking thanks to the cooler weather in October. The extraction formed easily. Our focus was in preserving those fresh flavors, as they were just so gorgeous to work with. Flavors spanned the full spectrum in 2010. The fruit achieved those intense dark fruit flavors we love from Napa Valley, but terroir driven earth and rocky notes remained a driving part of the personality in the wines. I love this vintage!
The weather in the 2011 growing season was quite far outside the norm. It was a short, yet cool growing season, which felt a lot more aligned with what you’d experience in Bordeaux, than in Napa Valley. That being said, I love what the season taught us about our vineyard sites. Thanks to hillside’s rocky soils, we had a great drainage on vineyards, which gave us an advantage in terms of fruit quality. The crops were quite light, so with a short growing season, we were still able to ripen our fruit fully. The 2011 wines on a whole have fabulous freshness and acidity. They are less fruit forward than a typical Napa Valley vintage, but they make up for it with their earth and savory succulent notes. They are less full-bodied than on average years, but they are bursting with elegance and sophistication. This vintage is very close to my heart as I feel it’s the most challenging vintages that really set apart the greatest terroir. I’m very proud to craft the wines from the IX Estate, Tychson Hill and for Cariad, Madrona Ranch and Thorevilos.
Justin Dragoo, General Manager / Gargiulo Vineyards
The 2010 was a cool vintage compared to the prior warm vintages – 2007-2009. Unusual rains mixed with heat spikes had our vineyard crews scrambling throughout the growing season. We experienced nearly four inches of rain in October. Our concerns mounted as harvest approached, but after the grapes were harvested and in the cellar, it was clear that this will be an outstanding vintage. The cooler than normal vintage led to a freshness in the wines that has not been seen in years, and despite any prior worries there were no green or under-ripe flavors detected in any varietal. The 2010s continue to be among our favorite wines produced from the estate.
We thought 2010 was a cool vintage with unusual rains … until 2011 came along. The 2011 vintage was unusually cool and rainy at level not seen in decades, and provided a challenge for most young winemakers in the valley. Huge rains in March led to multiple issues at fruit set and maintaining high standards for adopted quality throughout Napa Valley. The grapes were carefully selected at harvest and on the sorting table which lead to dramatic drops in the quantity of wines produced in 2011. Initially vintners detected herbal and green flavors in the wines, but at our estate, this early-harvest style has led to complex tobacco and coffee flavors in our reds. The higher acidity of the vintage should lead to an unusually long cellar life, and they are just starting to develop what will become a couple decades of slow evolution.
Cory Empting, winemaker / Harlan Estate & BOND.
What is interesting about 2010 and 2011 is that they both had almost the exact amount of thermal accumulation throughout the season. So, you cannot say that one was cooler or warmer than the other. The biggest difference between the two was the amount of rainfall and more importantly the timing of the rainfall. In 2011 we had large rain events in the first week of June that coincided with bloom. In many places depending on timing this brought the yield down significantly and temporally disoriented the vines. They were not sure whether they should produce more shoots and leaves or ripen the clusters. The soils that drained more quickly were less affected by this. Both vintages had rain during harvest, but in the case of 2011 the rain was followed by dense fog in the valley. This created ideal conditions for botrytis to develop in many low-lying areas.
In 2010 the challenge was all about timing – timing of crop removal, leafing and picking. We knew it was going to be a cool year and that we had a short runway to ripen fruit. We had to thin earlier than normal to ensure the development of fine tannins. We also opened canopies more than normal. This is always a risky maneuver in our climate where the sun can play a powerful role, but in the end nature rewarded us for this gamble. Extraction needed to be moderated in order to find the right balance.
The wines are muscular with layer upon layer of fruit, but what makes these wines exciting is the amount of acidity. It matches up to the hedonic density of the wines providing life on the palate and freshness in the nose. These wines are meant for the long haul and I believe they may outlive us all.
In 2011, the greatest challenge was to stay mentally strong. We had very low yields and had to take steps to remove even more crop in order to tighten the maturity window. Throughout the season nature was clearly in the driver seat. I say it is a year about faith in place. So many times we proclaim the greatness of site in Napa, but how many times are we truly tested? There were so many times that were mere spectators to the whims of nature and yet the great sites prevailed.
Aromatically wines have fruit, minerality and freshness that seems almost floral. They have all of the detail that we normally see in a wine that is at least 10 years old without showing any other signs of age. These wines aren’t about structure and muscle they are about grace and charm at the highest level. I believe that 2011 produced some of the greatest wines we’ve ever made from certain sites, but only time will tell.