SAN FRANCISCO — The 2012 California wine grape harvest yielded generous amounts of high quality fruit, and winemakers across the state are describing this year’s vintage as “excellent,” “outstanding” and “ideal.” “The 2012 vintage will offer consumers in our growing national and international markets fantastic choices,” said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, President and CEO of Wine Institute. “The California winegrape harvest is estimated at 3.7 million tons, up from 3.3 million tons in 2011.”
“Mother Nature smiled upon the California wine harvest this year with a bountiful crop of amazing quality,” said Kathleen Heitz, President of Heitz Wine Cellars. “The diversity and depth of talented winemakers throughout the state promise some exciting and vibrant wines from the stellar 2012 vintage.”
“The 2012 harvest has been exceptional,” said Frank Cabral, Director of Grower Relations for Trinchero Family Estates. “Moderate weather throughout the growing season has put little pressure on the vines, and provided grapes with well-balanced chemistries. The 2012 harvest is making up for the low yielding 2011 crush, with most varieties picking at above average yields. The 2012 harvest is shaping up to be one that will become known for its abundance of fruit and quality of wines.”
“The 2012 harvest on the North Coast can be summed up in one word, ‘outstanding,’” reported Bob Blue, Winemaker at Bonterra Vineyards in Ukiah. “It was back to a normal harvest picking timeline, only slightly later on the calendar than an average year, with an abundance of sunshine. Overall the quality has really been special this year, the fruit is ripe and concentrated. There were no disease issues with any of the grapes. The Pinot Noir has amazing fruit intensity, with classic varietal tones of strawberry and spices. Chardonnay has wonderful concentration and a mélange of fruit flavors from peaches to apples and lemon. Merlot has beautiful color and ripeness, with rich blueberry flavors. The Cabernet has outstanding flavors.”
“This was one of the more idyllic growing seasons that we’ve had,” concurred Aron Weinkauf, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Spottswoode Estate Vineyard and Winery in Napa Valley. The fairly mild weather allowed us to wait for fruit maturity in order to make our preferred style of wine. We were pushed to our limit to accommodate the quantity of fruit we harvested, but I am extremely happy with the overall quality and balance of the wines.”
“This year we have been blessed with ideal weather,” continued Hank Wetzel, Managing Family Member of Alexander Valley Vineyards in Sonoma County. “The harvest has been excellent. Growing conditions throughout the year have been ideal for producing a bumper crop of mature grapes with balanced flavors. In the spring, our vines set a large crop. During the summer, we had an abundance of California coastal “sweater” weather, fog in the morning, and warm sunshine in the afternoon, often sending temperatures into the mid 90s and then quickly cooling off after sunset. These daily temperature swings help make California, Sonoma County and the Alexander Valley great places to grow wine grapes. This daily cyclical temperature shift, occasionally hitting 50 degrees, continued into September ripening up fruit evenly and slowly, allowing us to bring in harvest at a steady measured pace. “We are now harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon. Clusters are packed with tiny bluish black flavorful berries.”
Paso Robles had more heat, and the crop level was not quite as abundant as in the North Coast, but we had similarly high quality fruit. “Overall, we’re excited about the 2012 harvest in Paso Robles,” said Jason Diefenderfer, Winemaker at Hope Family Wines. “Verasion was just ahead of schedule and was rather quick, so we’ve had great hang time. We experienced about three weeks of extreme heat in late August and early September, which didn’t raise the Brix levels as quickly as one would expect. It was good for the vines to catch up. Flavor-wise, the grapes are really showing great which should lead to round and robust flavors. The slight rain in mid-October didn’t do too much, as it cleared out and warmed up quickly. As our flavors continue to mature, it’s looking like this could be one of the better vintages we’ve had in the last 10 years.”
Michael McCay, Owner and Winemaker of McCay Cellars in Lodi, is also enthusiastic about the harvest: “I am very excited about 2012! I love the brightness and the deep, rich flavors we are getting across the board. The Zinfandels are upfront but also showing great potential. I think 2012 has the potential to outperform 2010, which was even more “perfect” in terms of numbers and ease of picking. The 2010 Zinfandels were great, but at this point in time, the 2012s taste even better! All of our 2012 Zinfandels are finishing at alcohols lower than 15%—most of them closer to 13.5%. With such intense flavors, we couldn’t ask for much better! I really believe it’s going to end up being the best wines we’ve ever made.”
“It was a good harvest season for the California wine grape crop, and both growers and vintners should be happy,” said Nat DiBuduo, President CEO of Allied Grape Growers. “The quality of grapes was very good, and the crop was average to above average depending on the region and variety. Although there were late rains in October, 85-95 percent of the crop had already been harvested. The California wine grape crop should hit the 3.7 million tons estimated earlier in the year. Overall, the biggest problem this year was that many of the red varietal grapes came in at the same time, filling wineries to capacity. Wineries dealt with the problem by scheduling growers as tank space came available.”
Quotes and Notes from Around the State
Nick Buttitta, Winemaker, Rosa d’Oro Vineyards
Our typical spring and early summer favorable weather brought low pest and disease pressures, setting Lake County growers on the path to a very nice growing season. Mid- and late summer heat spikes with multiple days in excess of 100 degrees did slow maturity in some areas, creating a situation of elevated sugar levels along with lower pH levels in some vineyards. For us at Rosa d’Oro Vineyards the choice was made to wait for full flavors to develop and full bodied and balanced wines. 2012 was a good year to be a winegrower in Lake County and I am sure there will be many wines that evoke the comment “excellent!”
Stuart Spencer, Owner/Winemaker, St. Amant Winery
The 2012 harvest was a welcome sight after several difficult harvests the past three years. Overall, the appellation saw a fairly large crop after several years of light crops. Zinfandel, Lodi’s signature grape, saw a very large harvest. The larger crop pushed picking back for most red Zinfandel into October. Yields for other varieties were above average. September’s warm temperatures allowed grapes to gradually ripen delivering outstanding quality across the region. A relatively dry October, compared to the previous three years, allowed most late ripening reds to be picked at optimal conditions delivering flavor-packed balanced wines. I look forward to seeing the 2012 wines develop in barrel – they should be outstanding.
Julian Halasz, Winemaker, Concannon Vineyards
The 2012 season had dry and warm weather in Livermore Valley. The warm dry spring nurtured the wines and helped achieve a good fruit set across all varieties. Although cluster counts were normal, cluster sizes are larger than average this vintage with high berry count, which became evident as clusters were filling out and the season reached the veraison. Generally the reds are dark & have good tannic structure and fully ripe flavors with balanced structure and alcohols. Overall an appropriate and much needed follow up after a couple years of lighter crops.
Karl D. Wente, Winemaker, Wente Family Estates
2012 Harvest was a great year! The weather in the Livermore Valley has been moderate, and yields look good to great on all cultivars. The Merlot season is late this year and, as a result, is overlapping with the Cabernet Sauvignon season. In my opinion, this is mostly due to the best set in Merlot that I have seen. All of our whites are finished in Livermore (except our Late Harvest Orange Muscat) and we are finished with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Arroyo Seco, Monterey.
John Kinney, Owner/Winemaker, Occasio Winery
Livermore Valley reports an exceptional harvest, with above average yields and the most balanced flavors in recent memory. Smaller bunch sizes in the Bordeaux varietals have concentrated grape flavors and encouraged ripening. On the cooler east side hills, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc are benefitting from the longer season. Thus far, the rains have passed quickly, and have not dampened our expectations for a superb finale to harvest 2012.
Peter Ficklin, President and Winemaker, Ficklin Vineyards
With a near average start date, the harvested grape varieties showed impressive maturity and quality. Weather during bloom in the early spring led to slightly above-average yields, without sacrificing balance and intensity of flavors. Fruit condition was excellent, leaning toward small clusters and berries. The usual June/July warm weather compacted the length of the crush season somewhat, and the grapes seemed to ripen all at once. We certainly look forward to seeing where these wonderful wines are in a few years.
Ray Krause, Owner/Winemaker, Westbrook Wine Farm
Less than normal rainfall and extended heat during August and September 2012 required the application of more water than usual in the sandy valley vineyards, resulting in an increase in over normal vegetative growth and a rapid rise in fruit pH prior to physiological maturity. However, most Madera County winegrowers have learned to appropriately farm their climate but this was a highly abnormal year for all.
Milla Handley, owner/winemaker, Handley Cellars
2012 was one of the best vintages I can remember in Anderson Valley. Summer temperatures were warm but not too hot, with cool nights both on the valley floor as well as the ridges. There was some fog, but most days were sunny with moderate temperatures. After the last two vintages, the extra sunshine was wonderful. Moderate temperatures all summer helped ripen the grapes without any major heat waves. The mild late summer and fall weather created a fairly long harvest. It allowed us to harvest fruit when it was mature at reasonable sugars and good flavors. It truly has been a very good year from bud break to the harvest of our final grapes.
Dean De Korth, Winemaker, Bernardus Winery
Summer on the Central Coast was on the cool side again this year and with slightly larger than normal yields. Our Sauvignon Blancs were slower than usual to ripen, but as September ended, we were able to bring them in with moderate sugars, crisp acidities and wonderful varietal expression. For Sauvignon Blancs, Pinots and Chardonnays, we are seeing beautiful full and bright fruit expressions. So far, it really looks like an excellent vintage!
Janet Myers, Director of Winemaking, Franciscan Estate and Mount Veeder Winery
What a fantastic harvest. It was a low rainfall year, with a return to more normal summertime temperatures versus 2010 and 2011. While the crop was on the heavier side, three heat waves during September and October really helped propel the vines along to achieve excellent ripeness. Color is deep, and the wines are very structural and concentrated. We are very pleased with how things are turning out.
Kathy Corison, Owner/Winemaker, Corison Winery
The season was nearly perfect. Relatively cool throughout, it allowed long, even ripening without drama. Even the late rains were followed by dry, windy conditions allaying any fear of rot in the Cabernet still hanging. Indian summer blessed us throughout the fall—perfect weather for finishing up the season. The ample crop overall made tank space the only real challenge this year. We have a bumper crop of deliciousness in our cellars.
Laurie Hook, Winemaker, Beringer Vineyards
At the outset, we anticipated a relatively quick and compact harvest but the mild weather throughout September slowed things down considerably. The typical order of ripening was jumbled a bit due to a warm inversion layer at 1500 to 2000 feet throughout September that kept mountain vineyards warmer than those on the valley floor. We had Chardonnay from Gamble Ranch, Merlot from Oakville and Cabernet Sauvignon from our mountain vineyards being picked all in the same week! Showers towards the end of October washed the dust off the fruit followed by temperatures in the low 80’s which did a nice job of ripening the balance of fruit still on the vines. All in all, 2012 promises to be a beautiful vintage!
Kurt Ammann, General Manager, Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards
2012 has been as close to a “perfect vintage” as we’ve seen in quite some time. The yields are up but so too is the quality. Judging from what we have tasted so far we couldn’t be more excited! Talking with friends and colleagues around the county this seems to be “the norm” not the exception. All in all we couldn’t be happier!
Jim Stollberg, Vineyard Manager, Riverbench Vineyard and Winery
The harvest season was one of our better as far as ripening weather. We saw variable yields between blocks, but overall average tonnages across most varieties. Winemakers have responded with positive feedback on the resulting wines thus far, and we did see very nice balance of maturity numbers and flavors in the vineyard.
Doug Margerum, Owner/Winemaker, Margerum Wine Company
Good year for growers as the yields were high and the quality was very good. Nice cool mild summer, low wind spring, so a great set. No rain, no frost, and no storms – amazingly. It was the best summer EVER – little fog and perfect clear warm (not hot) days. The wines are all concentrated. I have never seen such low juice yields (lots of pulp and thick skins), low alcohols, low malic acids for better aging, brown seeds and full lignation or drying of the stems. This all leads to great color and tremendous concentration, with good persistent tannins and structure.
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS
Jason Robideaux, Winemaker, Clos LaChance
The 2012 growing season was pure perfection. Great weather during bud break and fruit set gave us our best looking crop to date. Fabulous summer weather with no heat spikes or cooling trends gave us the best true growing season we have seen in the Central Coast in nearly a decade. At Clos LaChance Estate we are seeing yields up around 30 percent in most white varietals and 15 percent in Cabernet and Merlot. The great fruit set and ideal growing season has given us some of the highest quality grapes that we have ever seen off the Estate and promises to be a standout vintage. Late October rains slowed down production, but with mainly Cabernet left on the vine there was no concern for any hiccups in the quality. We are extremely excited to get all of these wines into barrel and start the early spring evaluations.
Steve Millier, Owner/Winemaker, Milliaire Winery and Black Sheep Winery
2012 saw a return to a more “normal” weather pattern for Calaveras County after several growing seasons of cooler weather conditions. This year started out with lower than normal rainfall followed by a dry early spring without frost, a welcome relief in the foothills. Several hot spells through the summer drove a slightly larger than normal crop into a ripening mode. September was extremely busy, starting with harvesting the century-plus-old Ghirardelli Zinfandels. Everything reached peak maturity with beautiful colors and deep flavors balanced with crunchy acidity. Fortunately, we finished a day before a large storm system brought heavy rains.
At our Black Sheep Winery, it was the third Cinsault harvest for this vineyard and each year the wine becomes a little more concentrated with more depth to the color. We had a very good year.
Jeff Meyers, Winemaker and General Manager, Terra d’Oro and Montevina
This is going to be a very good to excellent vintage, with reasonable crop loads and excellent quality reminiscent of 1997. Zinfandel is plentiful and Petit Sirah looks great. With Pinot Grigio we are seeing some true varietal characteristic such as ripe Bartlett pear qualities. This year, we blended our Syrah with 3-5 percent Viognier in the fermenter to lighten the wine and give it a floral aspect. Our Muscat quality appears to be fantastic with intense flavors. For Montevina Petit Sirah and Zinfandel, we are going for bigger tannins, bigger style, with spice and clove. Our 2012 harvest will reflect the true Amador county definition.
Montse Reece, Assistant Winemaker, Pedroncelli Winery
Great vintage. The yields were up by 20 percent. A warmer growing season made for an even ripening, no big heat spikes, rain or cold weather made berries develop intense varietal flavors. In red varieties, like cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, we see deeper colors and softer tannins than in previous vintages. Definitely a vintage to look forward to when released.
Joe Shirley, Winemaker, Folie à Deux, Sonoma
We finished Folie a Deux Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on October 23. Overall, we are seeing good quality as a result of no rain, little fog, and weather that has been mild—not too hot or cold and no extreme heat.
Ken Zignorski, Senior Co-Owner and General Manager, Monte De Oro Winery
Temecula Valley, Southern California wine country, had a great 2012 grape harvest. The season started with a cool spring and early summer, giving grapes quality time to develop, though offset by concern for early morning condensation and mildew management. While this resulted in an extended growing season for the grapes, high heat in mid-August and early September led to quick white grape ripening and quick-paced harvesting across the valley. A good portion of red grapes were harvested in mid- to late September. Overall, yields were slightly higher than forecasts—5-8 percent higher in some areas. Grape quality was really nice—terrific color and strong flavor concentration resulting in balanced juice. Syrah, Petite Sirah, Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon were some real standouts for Monte De Oro Winery.