With the passing of one year into the next, it seems that “reflection” is almost always the first task at hand. I waffle back and forth on this, partly because New Year’s Day seems so arbitrary, making it no more special than April 19th or July 17th. But this sense of finishing one thing and starting something new is cathartic and important, especially if you’re tied to the land and what it produces. So I’ve sat down to give one farmer’s view of 2010.
I suppose starting with the year in the vineyard is the most appropriate thing to do. A cool (or downright cold) spring led generally to a late start for the vines. Very little growth during April and May with cold temperatures meant many sleepless nights frost protecting in the fields. Although we lost little crop (just some Zinfandel in the coldest areas), the weather gave us a serious sense of what was to come for 2010.
If normally our vines start the growing season in early April with a “normal” harvest often running into early November, we could only imagine what a late-May start meant (harvesting in December?). Because we weren’t guaranteed a hot summer, we made the choice to jump into the fields in June, thinning heavily both shoots and crop. The idea was to focus on less crop, but insure the grapes would ripen properly. If the gamble were correct, we would harvest a crop with at least “good” quality. If we gambled wrong, we would have a short crop (having dropped too much fruit) that ripened too quickly.
In the end, all our worked paid off wonderfully with fantastic quality, due partly to the fact that we had everything harvested before the big rains of October hit. And it ended up being a wet, cold and early start to winter. But what it also did was make it one of the most expensive years in our vineyard’s history, due to the extra work in the field coupled with the lower yield in the vineyards. Was it worth it? Having tasted most of the 2010 vintage in barrel last week, you betch ya it was worth it.
Also on the bright side, the tasting room excelled this year. This, I think, is due partly to the value of the wines, partly due to the wide range of styles we produce, and mostly due to the incredible support we get from our local and long-time wine lovers. We happen to be on some of the industry mailing lists, catching a glimpse of what is happening out in the wine industry daily. It used to be that the “big” names out in the “well-known” regions of California could sell almost anything at any price. But with the change in the economy, all of a sudden these same wineries are deep discounting product by 45-73% in order to move inventory. And it’s not just California, having seen last month the 2006 Chateau Petrus offered at a mere $999.99 (regularly priced at $2500.00). Even though that’s a per/bottle price, it’s something that we would never have dreamed of seeing just 5 years ago. We simply don’t have the ability or the margins to deep discount, but we haven’t had the need to do it either.
So, for 2011, what do I see? Overall, I think the future is bright. I think there are difficult times ahead for wineries in California that were built as mere “money generators” with speculation in mind, as well as for wineries who have unreasonable business plans. But for the rest of us, if we keep the passion and the excitement for what we do and make, 2011 is filled with opportunity and potential.
As consumers, I think you will continue to be offered very nice wines at incredible prices (and maybe all those wines you’ve been purchasing at the $150 level will permanently be repriced in the ever-affordable range of $80/bottle—I just don’t know those kind of people). I think all of us are going to see better quality wines, exciting new ideas and more attention to the experience customers have at the winery—all benefits of a more competitive market out there.
Lastly, as I dial it down to just our winery, we’re excited about almost everything. Our two years of working on our goals and values and marketing et al are finally culminating in a slow release of our new label and packaging. For us, it feels like Madroña! In addition, the upcoming vintages of wines (the ’07 and ’08 reds, and the ’09 and ’10 whites) are fantastic (not only great vintages in the vineyard, but I’m learning more about the winemaking too!). And lastly, our family’s “sabbatical” to Cahors, France this winter to learn more about Malbec, French cuisine and culture, and to celebrate time together as a family only energizes us with more new ideas.
The fact is that life is good, whether it’s 2010 or 2011. But we hope that your 2011 is going to as fruitful, prosperous and joyous as we expect ours to be!