As the 2008 harvest approaches, it brings fond memories of my experience during the 1982 vintage in Bordeaux. I found myself picking grapes side by side with the locals and workers from nearby countries. It was a bit like summer camp: we young people descended upon the French chateau, bunking in dorms, eating in large groups and sharing stories with new friends.
The last weeks before harvest are critical ones. Vintners know, months before, the quantity of that year’s crop, but the quality is quite another matter. I recall the incredible passion, anxiety and tension that Jacque (vineyard manager) and the owners experienced during the vendage (harvest). They anguished at the sight of rain clouds. Bad weather now could ruin the entire season! Like race-car drivers watching for the green flag to lower, we waited . . . waited . . . and at last, when the grapes were ready, began at breakneck speed to pick the fruit off the vine before the rain came. As we harvested the last row, I saw the joy on old Jacque’s face. As it turned out, I had picked during one of the best Bordeaux vintages ever, and contributed to history.
Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since that season, yet vintners still await harvest time with trepidation and hope. As I write, it is too early to predict California’s harvest, but early indications suggest a smaller-than-normal crop, but one high in quality. According to Mark Neal of Neal Family Vineyards, this year’s unusually cold spring will result in Napa’s crop being 10 to 15 percent smaller. The cold snap that hit Napa and Sonoma brought temperatures down to the low forties and even colder in some parts. The great news is that a good summer has raised hopes for a strong finish. “Some of the vineyards will have smaller berries, resulting in better skin-to-juice ratios and very good-quality fruit,” said Mark.
While we wait for the 2008 harvest to be bottled and aged, here are some newly released vintages I recommend:
La Crema Viognier, Sonoma County 2007
Fresh apricot and orange peel interplay with scents of rose petals
and butter cookie. Juicy peach and yellow plum flavors lead to a bright
Murphy-Goode, Alexander Valley Fume Blanc 2007
This round yet vibrant wine is not shy around seafood.
The Fumé goes down easy with oysters on the half-shell.
Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2007
On the palate, discover ripe, fresh citrus; a clean, medium-bodied mouth-feel;
and buoyant flavors of tropical fruits with a touch of flinty minerality.
Cliff Lede, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Citrus-driven flavors of peach liquor, honeyed lime, and white currant toy
playfully with the dry, nutty fatness of candied ginger and creamy marzipan.
Neal Family Vineyards, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
This year has the most intense concentration of flavors and aromas to date.
Rich, ripe fruit and complexity sum up this cabernet sauvignon.
Aromas and flavors include black cherry, plum, cassis, floral notes,
chocolate, black licorice, tea and spice.
Charles Fredy is a sommelier and certified wine specialist with the Society of Wine Educators. A thirty-year veteran of the wine and spirits industry, he is vice president of Better Brands, Maui.