Winemakers, viticulturists, sommeliers, and wine critics are excited about what the 2011 vintage has in store, as are we! It was a rockstar year for both Merlot and higher elevation vineyards, even though it was considered by most a “challenging” and cooler vintage for Napa Valley. In 2011, the Bordeaux-like weather enabled mountain fruit to produce some exceptional and hedonistic wines.
Some might have a knee-jerk vintage reaction that 2011 “wasn’t a great year”, but just because the sun might have been hiding behind fog and rain on the valley floor for a bit, doesn’t mean it wasn’t shining brightly above the fog line! In addition, many experienced growers and winemakers took the adverse weather and growing conditions by the horns, and turned it to their advantage. After all, if Bordeaux can make delicious wines that we all cherish, the most iconic wine growing region in America can, too!
Quality, not quantity.
With only 4% of the wine that comes out of California, and growing within the 2% of the world’s Mediterranean climate, Napa will always be focused on making luxury and quality wines regardless of challenges. Nobody says it better than our Napa Valley Vintners:
“The commitment to quality runs so deep and strong in this valley that systems for effective sorting were already set-up, both in the field and at the wineries. While quantity was low, the fruit this year will make for well-balanced wines with good intensity, structure and texture with a brightness of flavor.”
“2011 is a year where hillside vineyards are the stars” –Antonio Galloni, Vinous
Overall, mountain-influenced fruit took advantage of 2011 for various reasons. Altitude played a huge role with two important factors; sun exposure and water retention. While the valley floor was hiding under the blanket of rain and fog, higher elevation vineyards were exposed to more sun and less rain, not to mention the limited water retention that occurs naturally from mountainous soils, which is a good thing for wine grapes. More stress and struggle for the vines creates more concentration and intensity for the grapes.
As Antonio Galloni, founder of Vinous states:
“On the mornings I ventured to Howell Mountain and Pritchard Hill (Atlas Peak AVA), something bizarre and beautiful happened. No more fog, no more rain. And plenty of sunshine. Above the fog line, everything was different. That was the first lesson I learned in 2011: terroir matters. Yes, there are some well-draining valley floor sites that did well, but 2011 is a year where hillside vineyards are the stars. Most importantly, 2011 is a beautiful vintage through which to discover what makes Napa Valley’s best terroirs so compelling.”
Why we all love our Stagecoach Vineyard…
Terroir always matters and, in 2011, even more so. We at Miner Family Winery were clearly benefited from sourcing from our long-time growing partner, Stagecoach Vineyard. The vineyard, which lies 1,800 feet above the valley floor, had the advantage with the hilltop sweet-spot, fog-free factors. Stagecoach Vineyard viticulturist, Gabrielle Shaffer, gave her first-hand perspective of the 2011 growing season’s advantages Atlas Peak AVA (Stagecoach Vineyard) had compared to the valley floor:
“2011 was a very cool vintage for all of Napa and Sonoma. It started off cool, which led to a fairly light set and kept much of that tone throughout the season. The 2011 vintage proved difficult for many, especially those on the valley floor. At Stagecoach (and many mountain vineyards) we had the advantage of longer sunlight hours due to being above the fog line. This helped with many factors, including ripening and less mildew pressure, in an otherwise challenging vintage. There were also a number of rain episodes during the growing season and during harvest. This lead to a lot of mildew and water berries for many. Once again, we had the advantage of the mountain top in that we got a lot of afternoon winds which helped dry out wet fruit and not let mildew creep in. Many believe that mountain top vineyards faired best in this otherwise trying vintage and came away with fruit that offered both focus and finesse to some superb wines.”
“Challenging year in the vineyard reaps rewards in the cellar” -NVV
Turning adversity into beauty…Bring it!
Napa Vintners agreed that, “Merlot was a success story for 2011… The cool weather helped the vines work more efficiently and produced a beautiful vintage of this varietal with black cherry and plum; not any pruney character.”
Again, the challenge was accepted by our experienced winemaking team at Miner, and because Merlot fared well, we decided to make that varietal the predominant base for our signature Bordeaux-style blend, The Oracle… for the first time ever! Thus, our signature wine for the 2011 vintage is more of a Right Bank style offering. C’est magnifique!
-Malissa Koven, Certified Sommelier, Miner Family Winery