Prediction: California’s 2009 Vintage Will Be A Hot Mess

11 Feb

This according to the Los Angeles Times.  I’d be interested to see how the 2009 vintage turns out, however.  I am predicting it will produce two broad types of wine: a HUGE volume of swill and a large volume of super-sized alcohol bombs.

The article states the following:

For consumers, the year’s bounty is expected to bring more availability and cheaper prices for all types of California wine, particularly premium and ultra-premium wines.

But I don’t see how this is possible.  Premium and ultra-premium wines?  It is an immutable truth of winemaking that lower yields mean better wines.  Fewer grapes mean that a vine will focus its energy on whatever fruit it has, which is why (fine) winemakers everywhere prune, prune, prune like crazy.  This leads to more concentrated, intense grapes, which in turn lead to better wine.

This is what Kermit Lynch had to say about it in his fantastic book, Adventures on the Wine Route:

When his crop yields 40 hectoliters to the hectare (4,000 liters per hectare, or 2,200 bottles per acre), Paul [Tardieu] says he is satisfied.  For a cheap vin de pays it is a drastically minuscule production.  In an abundant year such as 1979, the Meursault vineyards in Burgundy yield twice as much juice per acre and the wine sells for five to six times the price of [Tardieu’s].

One of Tardieu’s neighbors got “two hundred thirty . . . .  By making shit wine, he makes six times more money than [Tardieu].”

I wonder what the wine critics will have to say about California’s 2009 vintage.  The Times article continues:

Wineries in the state crushed 3.7 million tons of grapes last year, up about 20% compared with a relatively light 2008, and nearing the record 2005 harvest.

All major varietals showed growth, with chardonnay leading the pack in volume at about 726,000 tons, up 28% from the 2008 harvest. Pinot grigio, at 145,330 tons, boasted the largest percentage increase — up 61% compared with the year before.

California Chardonnay was the whole reason I was turned off by Chardonnay to begin with (it was only Meursault’s charms that changed my mind).  And Pinot Grigio?  Most Pinot Grigio is insipid stuff, anyway (at least in Oregon, where it goes by Pinot Gris).

While I can see how record harvests can bring down the price of wine, it’s harder to see how these harvests will bring down the price of “ultra-premium” Californian wines, and even harder to see how these harvests will raise their quality.  If anything, this will make me wary of the 2009 California vintage in general.

Then again, perhaps the truly great producers stayed true to the formula and pruned, pruned, pruned to keep their crops low.  The 2009s will generally be bigger and more alcoholic, but hopefully not so much so that they will be undrinkable.

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6 Responses to “Prediction: California’s 2009 Vintage Will Be A Hot Mess”

  1. Giri February 11, 2010 at 3:12 am #

    Within limits, as with all things. Low yields has become a mantra but it is neither a prediction of quality or a requirement. Balance, as always, is the most important aspect in viticulture. (I could dig up writings and references and I will, given some time.) Still, you’re basically right, of course.

    • vinicultured February 11, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

      I totally agree with you! Large yields across the board do not take into consideration a huge number of factors, including an individual winemaker’s decision to prune, when to harvest, and how to make the wine, and other factors like what type of varietal, the specific appellation and sub-appellation, etc., etc. But, what got me about the article was the statement that somehow record-breaking harvests would push down the price of premium and ultra-premium Californian wines. I don’t think there’s a strong enough link for anyone to say that.

      Thoughts, sir? =)

  2. Shea February 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

    It’s probably an ill-articulated attempt to say that the overabundance of wine will put downward pressure on all wine prices because there is simply more product in the marketplace. Is the increased yield precipitated by more plantings or simply an abundant vintage. In either case, yields can increase and still remain fairly low. I’d assume it is that, combined with the recession’s general downward pressure, that the article is supposing will depress wine prices for the premium and ultra-premium brands.

  3. Cal February 21, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    I don’t care about the higher alcohol, to an extent. No way do I want to see traditionally good wine be turned into some nasty Boone’s Farm juice.

  4. Mark April 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    Oh quit bitchin’ about chardonnay, the greatest varietal in the world.

    • vinicultured April 5, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

      It can be a great varietal when not destroyed by oak!

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