I love when the “bad vintage” conversation pops up in California.
Because it means there are going to be some freakin’ GREAT wines that are going to be out there for the taking DESPITE the fact that major publications, both in print and online, decide to have a field day with articles or reviews like this:
“The Curtain Is Dropping on California’s 2011 Vintage” – Wine Spectator
There is, of course, more than just that one article but this one was my personal favorite for reasons I will get in to… now.
First off, I read this article on the day it was published online. Over the last month and a half I’ve been trying to figure out how to analyze it. Originally I wasn’t really sure how to voice an opinion other than “that’s dumb.” The best comparison that I could come up with was the 1997 and 1998 vintages; ’97 being the golden child and ’98 being treated like it was the spawn of satan upon release. I will be that guy and say say that 1998 was and still is the superior vintage. I mean have you tried any of those ’98s recently??
As of last week I was able to rationalize my argument FOR the 2011 vintage a bit better using the very same article:
“Those who made excellent wines clearly had vineyards in pristine sites and paid attention to the smallest of details. Those who made a substantial amount of excellent wine, as in a few thousand cases, were really on top of everything, including separating marginal lots from superior ones1.”
In other words… those that were in charge actually did their jobs. Sorry, sorry! That was the one-month ago sarcasm speaking.
Some of the big guys can’t hand harvest and hand sort everything, can’t taste through every barrel and have to make concessions because they don’t have enough time to bring in all the fruit at the optimum moment (even some of the small guys have these issues). They have to play with a law of averages. You also have to remember who these articles are being written for, but I am going to sidebar that for now.
When you are working with a small production you have the luxury of being able to do all of that (and usually more).
You have to pay attention to the details in good years just to make a good wine (not to mention what you have to do to get a great wine out of a vintage). These “bad” vintages aren’t bad. They are a challenge. You either rise up to meet it or you don’t, plain and simple. Which is why I like to stick to the “winemaker’s vintage” verbiage. There are exceptions of course. Mother Nature can rear her ugly head and put you in your place (Exhibit A: search “hail storms France” on the interweb and see what comes up). Some small producers got stuck with harvest ops through November in 2011! But those that made sure the details mattered were rewarded ten-fold.
The reason why 2011 IS stellar is because there are a boatload of small producers who did pay attention to those painstaking details. Our dedication and patience was put to the test. 2011 was a vintage that was not for the faint of heart. There were many different avenues a winemaker could have taken to get through that harvest; now we get to see if those roads were the right ones to take.
My suggestion: If you have a few winemakers that you like to follow you stand a pretty good chance of weeding out some of the not-so-good wines sooner rather than later. If not, figure out who is on that list by doing a bit of research on the wines you drink most often. Or just continue tasting wines until you find something you like.
There are some pretty big names in the wine world who have stated it is one of the most, if not the most, challenging year that they have seen or experienced. I’m not here to say that they are wrong. I am here to say that there are some killer 2011s out there and if you believe the generalized hype YOU are wrong. 2011 is going to have some of the most underrated wines of this decade, that I assure you.
1 – “The Curtain Is Dropping on California’s 2011 Vintage” – Wine Spectator