Newsletter January 2009

Spring is Ahead of Winter in 2009!

Hello from sunny Sonoma! As I sit down to write, it is bright, warm and clear as a bell outside.  A spectacular day. The Farmer’s Almanac says winter 2009 should be normal to wet.  Swing and a miss.  I should not really complain about beautiful, sunny days, but for the fact that the more of these we have, the more behind we are on ground water.  It has been one of the driest winters on record around the vineyards in the Sonoma Coast, and there is no significant rain in sight. During the growing season I am used to following the weather like a nervous stock broker following the Dow Jones, but things are supposed to be more relaxed during the wet months of December through February. Not this year. 

Dry winters are not unheard of around here. They crop up every few years, often in pairs—as seems to be the case this year.  2008 was a very dry winter. The weather gurus who follow these things are declaring 2009 a “La Nina” year, the opposite of a warmer “El Nino” event.  A La Nina is characterized by warmer than usual temperatures in Alaska, which drive cold ocean water from the Gulf of Alaska to the south, making the ocean temperatures off our coast dip by several degrees. This change forces the jet stream further north, sending the rain that should be ours to our now-soaked friends in Oregon and Washington. If it were possible to trade weather like baseball cards, my sister in Portland would give us five of her wet days for one of our sunny ones. We still have a few weeks left in our wet season and I’m hoping for a real gully washer. Let’s hope I don’t cramp up crossing my fingers and toes too hard.

The good news is dry weather makes for very cold nights, which are excellent for putting the vines into deep dormancy. The deeper the dormancy, the more evenly the vines bud out in the spring, and the more uniform the spring shoot growth. This helps the vines to remain aligned in their growth and maturity during the year, making for more uniform ripeness across vineyard blocks come harvest. Riper, softer tannins and more acid; sign me up! Cold and dry also makes for good pruning weather.  No worries about rain on the pruning wounds, no demoralizing mud to slog through, no rain days off work. As a result, we are caught up in the vineyards and looking for work. Hey, time to go biking!

The 2008 wines are now resting in barrel, slowly finishing up with malo-lactic fermentation. What a vintage! Super dark Pinots, bursting with immense levels of red fruit alongside spice aromas. Very fine-textured tannins, round and rich, with amazing concentration of vineyard character. The Chardonnays are showing great acidity and drop dead gorgeous aromas; everything I was hoping for!  I am thrilled by the quality of the 2008 wines, particularly after the fantastic 2007 vintage. You don’t get very many great years like 2007 in your winemaking carrier, so to follow it up with a second great year in a row hardly seems fair.  See, you might actually get a pony one of these Christmases.

Next time you are in the area please look us up and try a few of the great 2007 wines.

James Hall, Winemaker