Newsletter December 2009

Holiday Harvest Report

Holiday Greetings!!

The beautiful fall weather is continuing here in Sonoma. Dry and cold, it dipped to 28 degrees last night making for a fantastic sight at sunrise as the morning rays glimmered off frosty shoots and icy vineyard trellis wires. The frosty white grass looking like a light snow had fallen. The sun has taken on a brilliant cold light that makes it feel like winter is really here.  The vines are fully dormant now, the last of the yellow and orange leaves swept away by heavy winds last week. The very cold nights have stopped the sap movement in the vine trunks, decisively putting the vines into deep sleep until spring 2010 when the new vintage will begin.  In the winery, the wines are resting in barrel, fermentation completed, and now slowly progressing through the secondary malo-lactic fermentation.  As they start the ageing cycle, the wines are beginning to show their character, revealing the potential of the very fine 2009 vintage. As things slow down in the winery and the vineyards are waiting for pruning to begin in January, it is a good time to look back on the 2009 vintage.

Pinot Noir harvest started on September 7, nine days later than 2008, with our first grapes coming in from Chenoweth Ranch in the Russian River Valley. The arrival of this fruit in our winery was immediately followed by our first Chardonnay from Hyde Vineyard in Carneros. From that point on, the grapes arrived quickly and in good order—this despite the fact that there was no significant heat events.

After what seemed like a very cool year, with a downright chilly July, we were well behind in heat summation, a measure of the total amount of heat we receive in a year. This was followed by an August with foggy mornings and cold nights. As a result, it was surprising how quickly everything matured. I attribute this to the fact that the 2009 canopies have been so lush and healthy (though not overly vigorous). Because of this, the leaves were very efficient, and made sugar very easily.  The other factor was the very even and rapid flowering cycle that occurred in May. Since the vines flowered so completely and evenly, the fruit matured very evenly at the end of the season.  This allowed us to harvest grapes within a very narrow range of maturity levels—a very good thing. What this meant, was that we didn’t have to delay picking to allow for lagging clusters to catch up, nor did we have to rush picks to avoid overripe fruit. As a result, the wines are showing appealing ripeness, but there’s also the natural acidity, extract, and the tannin levels to keep everything in balance.

In a way, 2009 seems like a hybrid of 2007 and 2008—both spectacular vintages for Patz & Hall. Because 2009 is mostly dominated by small berries, it has the color and tannins of 2007, along with the same purity of vineyard character and high acids. But the ripeness and drama in the fruit is more reminiscent of 2008. Already, the color in the Pinots is unreal. I thought 2007 was the darkest vintage I had ever seen—but these 2009 wines are as black as night. As for the Chardonnays, the story so far is in the aromatics, which also like 2007, offer head-turning allure. I just smelled the 2009 Zio Tony Ranch Chardonnay, and it literally brought a big, joyful smile to my face.

Pinot yields are off by 20 to 30 percent from a normal year, and overall crop level pounds-per-vine are similar to 2008—which is remarkable given the incredibly small yields of that vintage. Ultimately, these low yields have contributed to a stupendous vintage of exceptional quality. Knowing this makes it easier to turn our attention towards the holidays. And after months of long days and nights in the vineyards and winery, it’s a wonderful time to come up for air—to focus on our loved ones and reflect on all the wonderful people in our lives. Thanks to all of you for the support you have given us over the years. Everyone here at Patz & Hall wishes you happy holidays and a great new year!