The 2012 vintage is a good year. Great production with very good quality means that there will be many very good wines coming out of the vintage. As an industry just having come off of two difficult years (2010 & 2011), the media is picking up on the general excitement for 2012. Lots of really good grapes everywhere.
Invariably wine drinkers pick up on this vibe and start to engrain this into their memories. As an industry, I think we tend to build this up even more because, realistically, it sells more wine.
But I think I need to step out a bit and be honest. When customers come into the tasting room asking if the 2012 vintage is the “best ever,” I admit that it’s a good year, partially due to quality and partially due to quantity. But will the resulting wines be the “best ever?”
There is no doubt that 2012 will make a lot of very good wines, but I think the truly spectacular wines may have come out of 2011, even with all of its challenges. Now this all needs to be said with the following caveat. I am speaking about the potential to make an “exquisite” wine, a wine of true distinction and a “sense of place.”
The fact is that in 2011, we all worked harder to find every exceptional aspect the challenging grapes had given us. Picking decisions and cropping decisions were paramount to the eventual quality in the wine. However, it could be that only 5% or 10% may achieve this level, with the remaining wines being less enticing than normal.
With the 2012 vintage, California vineyards produced ripe fruit and large quantities. If wineries had the tank space to continue picking at peak maturity, I think that 90%-95% of the wines will be of very good quality with good fruit and great color.
So, from a winemaking point of view, would I rather have lots of very good wine or the potential to make a small amount of truly exceptional world-class wine? That I can’t answer.
From the public’s point of view, I think that 2012 with its softer, riper tannins will ultimately be the more popular vintage. And ultimately, we may find that 2012 is much like the 1997 vintage. The 1997 vintage had high expectations, made nice wines, built up the reputation of California wineries, and was pretty much all consumed in a short period of time. In the long-haul, though, the less “prestigious” vintages of 1994, 1995, and 1996 have aged better than 1997.
This is all more than you may want to know about the harvest of 2012. And although it seems like I’m being hard on the vintage, from a farming point of view, it was fantastic.
As I walk into the cellar and taste through the barrels, I am very excited about the fruit-forward varieties with the approachable tannins. At the top of this list is Zinfandel! With 12,000 gallons of Zinfandel in the winery, I’m looking forward to blending the lots next spring. But already the wines are soft with intense berry fruit.
Equally exciting are the 2012 Malbec lots. Fresh, round and mouth-filling, I can see these wines aging very well. And lastly, of course, the Cabernet Franc with its longer fermentation. The tannins are under control, but already the layering of fruit characters is impressive to me.
All in all, we earned an easy vintage like 2012 (having worked through 2010 and 2011)–great quantity and very good quality. Now it’s our job in the winery to find and embrace the unique aspects of this wonderful vintage. Stay tuned!!!