What is the most important thing you have learned from the 2012 growing season and harvest?
Chris Figgins, Leonetti Cellars (Walla Walla, Washington). The most important lesson from 2012 we actually learned in 2009 and applied successfully in 2012. Both years were warm—running above our long-term heat unit accumulation. Consequently, in both years—and this isn’t always the case in such vintages—physiological maturity ran behind sugar accumulation in Bordeaux varieties here in Walla Walla Valley. I feel that in some blocks in 2009 we jumped the gun for fear of high alcohols, and typically those wines reflected it in their phenolic profile. This year I tried to exercise much greater patience and deal with the sugar after the fact. I really believe that has paid off qualitatively with gorgeous colors, flavors, and even balance as our acids never faded excessively despite the extended hangtime.
Pio Boffa, Pio Cesare (Piedmont, Italy). We are pleased to reconfirm our firm opinion that nebbiolo on the incredible soils of Barolo and Barbaresco is really a phenomenal grape variety. With the kind of heat and drought we had on the hills of Barolo and Barbaresco, the roots of our vines go so deep in the ground that they were able to intercept the moisture that is always available deep in the tufo soils of the Barolo and Barbaresco hills. The wines will be rich and creamy but with good acids and pHs.
Reinhard Löwenstein, Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein (Mosel, Germany). That man- (and woman-) power in leaf management is a thousand times more important than spraying and harvesting. We are in the early days of the harvest and it’s the same old story: wait, and select.
Louis Barruol, Château de Saint Cosme (Gigondas, France). The 2012 vintage looked like the vintages of the ’60s and ’70s: ripening has taken a long time, but that is always the best kind of ripening. What have I learned? First, global warming doesn’t help us. It just helps the mediocre winemakers to be less mediocre. And second, temperate weather conditions make the truly great wines.
Cris Cherry, Villa Creek (Paso Robles, California). The 2012 growing season has been warmer than normal, similar to that of 2008. Many of my peers began harvesting much earlier than I have seen in my 12 years. That has allowed me to reflect back on what my mentor Justin Smith taught me, and that is to allow the flavors to develop and not to base a pick solely on Brix levels. Sugars were ahead of flavors this year, and it was not until recently that the flavors and sugars have come into balance. The 2012 vintage is shaping up to be a strong year, and I look forward to seeing the wines evolve in the cellar.
Brian O’Donnell, Belle Pente (Willamette Valley, Oregon). The most important lesson this year was that sometimes you don’t even know what you don’t know. Our beautiful, dry, moderate summer here in the Willamette Valley turned 20 years of experience on its head in terms of defying the “normal” separation between early and late sites. In our case, the “later” high-elevation sites in the Dundee Hills actually matured earlier than our warmer, lower-elevation, “earlier” Yamhill-Carlton estate vineyard. In all of our vineyards, ripening accelerated dramatically in the last week of September, with warmer than normal (but not outrageously so) temperatures, especially at night. In some cases, we saw Brix levels rise by 0.5 degrees per day, and total acidity halved in a week. And this was with beautiful, full, mostly green canopies and no apparent shriveling or dehydration. Just more proof that vintage trumps all in our marginal cool climate!