People believe that vintages in California don’t matter. True, California generally suffers less vintage variation than northern Europe. Still, growers face frost, untimely rain and severe drought. California suffers vintage disasters just like anywhere else.
The wine business may seem lucrative but it is resource and labor intensive. Furthermore, it depends on the public’s fickle tastes. As has been said, the way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large one. Challenges abound.
The challenges begin in March. Frost and rain interfere with flowering and limit production. Growers have procedures that help, but hoping for the best is the grower’s main tool.
Every year, growers put in their orders for perfect growing weather, and every year growers get whatever they get. Winemaking is first of all agriculture, with all the mischance implied by that. Once the frost period passes (mid-April or later) and grapes have set, the balancing of rain and sunshine begins. Too much of either will diminish wine quality.
Sunshine fuels the chlorophyll dynamo that makes the vine grow and thrive. Too much sunshine means not enough rain. In other words: drought. California’s wine country has seen droughts lasting years. The deep roots of grape vines help mitigate this problem. Drought years can produce exceptional wines of great concentration. Production drops, however. Rain is a must.
The hot climate of California would produce flabby, heavy wines if it were not for cool nights. Cool nights slow headlong sugar development and allow grapes to maintain acid balance. Vintners prize mountain locations, where temperatures run cooler than valley floors.
The growing season progresses unevenly. Cloudy or rainy days slow grape maturation. Long hot spells threaten grapes with unwieldy sugar levels. With luck, sugar and acidity reach optimal balance by harvest time.
Rain provides the final weather challenge of the vintage. At harvest it causes grapes to absorb excessive water, diluting the juice, lowering acidity, and allowing destructive mold to develop. Autumn frost also can spoil grapes.
Fine weather at harvest means growers can make multiple sorties into the vineyards for only the most perfectly ripened fruit. Rushed harvests call for compromises.
Challenges noted, applaud now (and drink!) these cabernet that successfully negotiated the vintage year.
- Blackstone, tasty low-price choice!—$9.99
- Rodney Strong, popular wine and consistent good value—$12.99
- Toasted Head, satisfying effort from a value-conscious producer—$15.99
- Obsidian, superbly dense, dark, and delicious—$31.99
- Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar “Artemis”, the winery that beat the French, silky, supple, and elegant—$45.99
Fun fact! “DNA genetic fingerprinting research at the University of California at Davis has revealed Cabernet Sauvignon to be a cross between the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.”—The Wine Institute
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