Winemaker's Journal - January 2013

2012 Growing Season Summary

The 2012 California growing season was like a winding road that eventually straightened out. The year began with fairly normal weather patterns that transitioned into a mild summer, but late-season rains added plenty of drama. It was also somewhat of a drought year with the Sierra Nevada snow pack down 30–60% of normal (a statewide indication of water reserves).

January and February were fairly dry and unseasonably warm during the day with one short heat wave, however, there were sustained periods of nighttime coldness that hovered around 32°F.

Temperatures were near normal in March and April with days reaching the 50s and 60s and nights dipping to the high 30s, but the earlier near freezes delayed budbreak one to two weeks depending on the grape variety with most buds pushing late March to early April.

Several coastal regions experienced beautiful spring weather in April, May and June with days in the low 70s to high 80s, nights in the high 40s to low 50s, and occasional morning fog. There were a few storms in early April, but none threatened the infant shoots. Temperatures warmed to the low 90s in Paso and 80 degrees in other growing regions.

More rain fell on the vineyards from Monterey to Mendocino in early June. The remainder of June was clear and cool except for one heat spike around the second week followed by another in mid-July with temps well above 100°F, then another from August 1 – 13. The sum effect of these heat waves accelerated the ripening curve and prompted veraison to occur 1–2 weeks early in some locations. There was a significant cool down in mid-August, but conditions warmed up for most of September.

We picked about 25% of our fruit in late September (e.g. Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir) and 65% from October 10 – 18 (including Paso Merlot, Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay and Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir). Rain fell along the North Coast on October 10, but we were able to delay harvesting our Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon until the 16th. We brought in our last bin of fruit on November 7 right before the onset of the full rainy season.

Conclusion

Overall, 2012 was a high-quality vintage with rich fruit flavors. The late-season heat spikes hurt some vineyards, and many locations are still recovering from the 2011 spring frosts, but the dry conditions discouraged the formation of mildew. Finally, the slightly above average-size crop was good for wineries and growers alike, and a welcome reprieve from the smaller crops of vintages 2010 and 2011.

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