Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Risky Season in Sonoma

So much of what we’ve been hearing lately has been about the general high quality of wines: From 2009 Bordeaux to the string of excellent vintages in Germany to the ever-exciting wines from Austria to Argentina and beyond, it’s only natural to focus on the positive.

But once in a while, a bit of potentially bad news slips out and reminds us that growing grapes and making wine is more than tricky: It can be downright risky.

I don’t remember who said it, but several years ago I heard a winemaker remark that, unlike restaurant chefs, who have dozens or more chances each evening to achieve perfection, winemakers get but one a year. And if the weather isn’t just right, or if a rogue storm passes through a region or appellation at just the wrong time, catastrophe can result.

I write this because a recent news item on notes that “Wine growers on the Sonoma Coast and in the Russian River Valley face a nail-biting wait to discover if 2010 will be a great vintage – or ruined by rain.”

It continues, “A low pressure system sitting off California's north coast has created highly unusual weather conditions in the area this summer, with coastal fogs and temperatures in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit, rather than the more normal 80s and 90s.

“As a result, grapes have ripened slowly, giving the potential for exceptional quality – but growers are concerned that they might not be able to finish the harvest before the onset of October rain.”

And this is California, where the sun is always supposed to shine and the weather is meant to be as laid-back as the lifestyle.

What a perfect reminder that, even in the best locations, great wine is far from guaranteed year after year. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the Sonoma Coast and Russian River as the growing season continues.


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