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Bien Nacido in Santa Maria Valley is a very tony neighborhood, vitaceously speaking. It's my own personal (unproven) theory that the clone of Syrah planted in the X-block (the "Estrella River" clone) may in fact be identical to "Serine", the aromatic Syrah variant of Côte Rôtie. The rub is that Serine only really expresses its unique qualities when grown on very cool sites, which, of course, very accurately describes Bien Nacido.
Napa Valley Vintage Report / Challenging year in the vineyard reaps rewards in the cellar
What began with a wet winter and spring continued with rainfall into mid-June that delayed bloom and disrupted fruit set resulting in shatter in parts of the region set the stage for a long, cooler-than-average growing season with a later-than-average harvest beset with autumn rain storms. The precipitation measuring season ending on June 30 found the region more than a third above normal in rainfall. While this is good news for water resources, the cloud cover and cool temperatures delayed vine development by several weeks at the onset of the growing season.
This timetable continued through the somewhat cool summer season where harvest for the first varieties for sparkling wines found the latest harvest start in anyone’s memory, beginning August 29. Few high heat events occurred at any point this year, but growers managed more open vine canopies to ensure sunlight, warmth and good air circulation around the grape clusters. The shatter resulting from the rain events in June was variable by vineyard location hitting some locations harder with projected crop diminished by more than 30% while leaving other sites nearly untouched with near-normal crop.
After a consistently cool summer season, significant mid-October rain pushed the vintage even later. But growers were rewarded with weeks of fantastic weather, a prolonged Indian summer that provided needed ripening time.
Most waited through the first two rains of this year to pick Chardonnay in October, and that patience paid off. Yields were generally consistent with 2010 — down by 10%. Quality looks very good with lower alcohols, good structure and length on the palate.
Most agreed that Merlot was a success story for 2011. While it can tended to be on the greener side, the cool weather helped the vines work more efficiently and produced a beautiful vintage of this varietal with black cherry and plum, not any pruney character.
Mold, rot, and botrytis were challenges to the grapes that were not harvested, and had a major impact on the quantity of the harvest, but not the quality. The commitment to quality runs so deep and strong in this valley that systems for effective sorting were already set-up, both in the field and at the wineries. While quantity was low, the fruit this year will make for well-balanced wines with good intensity, structure and texture with a brightness of flavor.