Let me remember 2010…
A cool growing season
My first harvest in Washington was 1998 (5th warmest season on record ) and if you take out 1999 (The 4th coolest season), it has been the coolest season in many years. The seventies and mid-eighties were very cool years as well but really for the past 20 years we have been used to 2,400 GDD (Growing Degree Days) every year. Well, not 2010. We had to go through a cold early spring and really a uber cool end of season – it almost felt like Burgundy at times. A cool season like 2010 brings its load of challenges in the vineyard especially late ripening, low maturity, low yields and potential for rot.
Winemaking to the rescue
The challenges the season brought us had to be dealt with at the winery, this is what they call a “winemaker’s vintage” – aka I will not sleep for 60 days and chew my fingernails to the bone. In challenging vintages, such as 2010, the trick is to accept that there will be compromises and to choose them carefully. The first compromise we made was to bring some fruit below optimal ripeness and avoid having to pick everything at once (it is challenging to bring too much fruit too fast). The second compromise we’ve made was to accept grapes with far higher noble rot levels than we usually do. The third one was to pick almost exclusively on acid level – we would pick once the acid level would go right below “deadly”. Still this was not enough to get away with such a cool season. We had to get out a few tricks out of our Magic Riesling Compendium book namely leaving grapes on cold soak to enrich the juices in potassium (thereby dropping some tartaric acid out of the wine), selectively de-acidify some lots, decide to not make any dry styles from the 2010 harvest and separate lots with higher botrytis levels for Sweet Riesling.
The wines we’ve made
Now we are just releasing the wines we’ve made from the 2010 vintage. They have in common a great high acidity, some level of noble rot (think about waxy, complexing aromas and flavors) and overall a tid bit more sugar than usual to rebalance the extra acid (and of course de facto lower alcohols). Below is a list of the wine we’ve made in 2010:
– Riesling “Phoenix”: This is our Johannesburg style. We left a tid bit more sugar than usual to rebalance the wine (2.8% instead of 2.5%). Surprisingly close to the 2009 with some added acidity
– Sweet Riesling: OK, this is a very very nice sweet Riesling; it has about the same sugar than usual (7%) but has a layer of botrytis that I have been fighting to get for years. I would say about 20% noble rot.
– Riesling Made from organic Grapes: Watch out, this is our best to date (our first vintage was 1998). With a great natural acidity and the slightly above normal sugar level (3.8%) this is a very pure and somewhat crystalline Riesling – very different in the lineup and very cool.
– Vin De Glaciere – Wallula Vineyard – Made From organic Grapes: A new twist on our quintessential VDG. Now it is made from Wallula so it can carry an organic certification. It was a bit of a challenge to make a dessert wine organically but boy it paid off. Note the 8.5% alcohol on this wine (16% Residual Sugar), it is a great wine in a 375ml bottle.
– Sparkling Sweet Riesling: Well, when you can’t make a dry Riesling, you make a sweet one! That is what the Germans do and what we did. A new bubbly in the lineup dosed at 7% RS – think Sweet Riesling with bubbles
– Solstice Vineyard Riesling: We’ve just bottled this one. It has been a fantastic wine so far though it needs a bit of bottle age. It ended up drier than in past year – this is the acid monster for those of us that like that with total acidity of 0.93 and Residual Sugar of 0.93. This is the wine of legends
– Wallula Vineyard Riesling Biodynamic: This is a very interesting wine because we did not get the sugar we usually do at Wallula. We kept the sugar at around 1.1% as usual but the alcohol is 11.9%. This wine as usual is the best true read on the vintage – untouched from the vineyard to the bottle
– Gewurztraminer: This is one varietal that fared well in 2010. Great concentration, very aromatic vintage and the best for us since 2008 probably (mmm 2008 was cooler too, may be a correlation?)
– Framboise: A short harvest in 2010 though quite flavorful. Intense berry flavors, the only problem is that we did not make enough!
The wrap up
In retrospect, 2010 was a great year for Riesling producers – as long as you focused on sweeter styles save a few sites like Solstice. The only thing I wish is that our yields could have been higher and our quantities available larger. I probably lost way too much sleep on this vintage and lost a couple years of life expectancy – which I can regain by drinking additional Riesling every day in 2011. Please expect high acids in 2010 and trust that we did balance everything out with about 10% more sugar than usual. Enjoy the touch of botrytis on the wines, especially in the Sweet Riesling. Have fun with the results of a challenging vintage, meanwhile we are preparing for an equally challenging 2011 vintage (2011 is so far cooler than 2010!).