Then, just as things were getting really interesting, uncharacteristic early October rains arrived. I wrote in my calendar, "Rain! Rain! More fucking rain!" The chardonnay was decimated. We only picked the highest quality fruit that remained after the rains: a half ton of fruit from our roughly half acre of clone 96 in Carneros (a 75% loss). The skins were ripe and tasty and the acidity just right, so I remain "cautiously optimistic."
After the rains I waited as long as possible to pick any of our red varieties. Sugars remained low in all our vineyards and the grapes matured slooowly. (It has been a very French year, and will unquestionably appeal to the new wave of wine drinkers who prefer low alcohol wines.) So it was I waited to harvest until the last two weeks of October, much of this fruit myself, picking the first 2.3 tons of Oak Knoll Merlot of October 19, followed by a quarter ton of Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon on October 20, another quarter ton of Rutherford fruit on October 21, 1.8 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon from Mt. Veeder the afternoon of the 21st, 2.5+ tons of Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon on Saturday October 22, and the last ton remaining of Rutherford fruit on the morning of October 29.
Across the board I only harvested the best fruit available to me. At each vineyard I work with I dropped any cluster that showed any sign whatsoever of rot or mold. I then performed a secondary whole-cluster sort on the sorting table prior to destemming. For the Merlot, I left the berries whole (destemmed, uncrushed) and bled a portion of saigne, then chilled the fruit down for just 36 hours prior to inoculating with three strains of premium yeast for three different fermentations. The musts were warmed early and late for tannin development and pressed after 15 days on the skins, then racked to new Daranjou barrels. I am very optimistic -- cautiosly optimistic, but very optimistic nonetheless -- about the quality of the Merlot this year. There is no question in my mind that it transcends our 2010. The tannins are fine and soft but the palate is full with variations of red and black fruits and lingering minerality on the finish. It continues to showcase everything great about the Oak Knoll District.
The Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon is being fermented in a combination of three new Taransaud barrels with varying premium yeast strains, stainless steel, and one bin. I bled some juice off the crusher to concentrate the flavors of the skins, and I punched down, pumped over and aerated the wines multiple times each, with varying amounts of heat, to maximize extraction. The wine is still macerating with a small amount of aeration and heat, and it is just a monster at this stage with prominent purple fruited notes and a fully realized mid-palate. Once complete, the Rutherford will go into mostly new French oak from Sylvain, Daranjou, and Taransaud.
But the darling of my heart and the belle of the ball may in fact turn out to be our small section of Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit from our section of the vineyard (the lower part of the Block C slope where the hill faces due southeast and the vines are protected from the trees on the ridgeline) was a perfectly dark plum color and uniformly mature without excessive sugars. This part of the vineyard is characterized by small, loose clusters of dark berries with supple skins and brown seeds. I bled the juice, again off the sorting table, to concentrate flavors and maximize extraction. I then fermented .6 tons each per bin with three different premium yeast strains. I performed the same maceration schedule for each bin: two punch downs per day, with occasional splashing and daily heat. The wine was racked and pressed to all new Sylvain and Taransaud barrels after eighteen days on the skins.
At this stage I am confident that despite all -- the late harvest, the rain, the rot, the mildew, the mold -- 2011 is a better vintage for Crosby Roamann than 2010. For one thing, we got the Sauvignon Blanc right: ripe, tart, succulent, fleshy, tangy -- it's all there. This will be a blockbuster. Furthermore, there is no question that the reds are far superior in 2011 than 2010. They are more uniform, more mature, more concentrated, more balanced, both in terms of fruitedness and fruit-style, as well as tannin profile and fullness, and all at lower alcohols and higher natural acidities. These wines will likely age and mature for decades. These are going to be wines for our children's children. The Chardonnay ... I guess that's another story. My hunch is that the 2010 will outperform the 2011 in the short term. It's too early to say about how the 2011 will age, yet I have very high hopes for our 2010, to be bottled at the end of winter.
Despite it all, my guess is that the press will likely proclaim the whole vintage a complete bust.
What we're drinking ... 1969 H. Lamarche Clos Vougeot **** Rehydrated potpourri on the nose. Slightly murky in the glass; gains depth with air. A dark raspberry color with bricking. I am told this is a ripe vintage for Burgundy. On the tongue, ultra-silky with mushrooms, dry earth, notes of birch and old, faint dry herbs. Very fine but still-present soft tannins; raspberry sorbet on the finish.