Coca-cola always tastes the same. Year after year, bottle after bottle, the same flavor. Diet or regular? That's why wine is so unique - because the complexity of flavor and its infinite variation. Each year brings us a new crop of grapes which are different from the ones that preceded it, sometimes dramatically so. Are some years better than others? Maybe the weather conditions during some years are better suited to the certain varietal's needs, but in this brave new world of California winemaking, technology and technique can often trump the whim of nature. I think it has become necessary to dispel the notion of a "bad vintage" because of the damage that can happen to the wine drinking community when a particular year gets a bad rap. "Oh, I heard 2006 was a bad year... I try to avoid anything from that vintage." I’ve tasted some fabulous wines from that year, including Deerfield’s own ’06 Organic Syrah and I can tell you that myth holds little water. 2009 is a perfect example: Northern California experienced some heavy early rains that occurred just before many grapes had fully ripened, causing the berries to swell with water, diluting the flavor and driving the brix down. The only solution is to let the grapes hang on the vine until the ground (hopefully) dries and the berries lose some of the extra water but that in turn poses the risk that mold will develop on the wet leaves and berries. Much of the grapes we processed after the rain were problematic and sometimes the sorting table was reduced to a crawl to make sure no moldy grapes were present in the wine. Yet all of the grapes that were ready to harvest before the rain were excellent. In fact, I remember more than one grape grower commenting that it was some of the best fruit they'd ever tasted. It's all too possible that wine writers will label California's 2009 vintage as being poor even though that is certainly not the case. With a master at the wheel like Robert Rex, '09 will be showing very well for Deerfield. But that's what separates the men from the boys in the wine world, the average winemakers from the exceptional ones.
The other tool in the Californian winemaker's arsenal is the ability to blend wine, guided by tradition but untethered by regulation. Since Merlot is one-dimensional in flavor but has a wonderful mid-palate with a luxurious texture we add a wonderfully charismatic Cabernet Sauvignon and a front palate Petit Verdot to the mix to give the wine a synergistic effect - the finished wine better than each of its components. There are numerous examples in Deerfield's library, like the 2005 Shiraz Cuvee - A testament to how skilled blending can achieve a wine that highlights what’s best about Syrah. Or the DRX which year after year is as elegant a wine as any studied palate could hope for, because only the best barrels are selected for the blend.
I have more to evidence to continue build my case to debunk the myth of the bad vintage and I shall do so next week! Salut!