All vintages in Napa Valley have their own personality. 2010 has given us challenges reminiscent of the late 1960’s and early 70’s with a much later beginning to the year and a later harvest. What began as a mild and fairly moist spring turned into a cool and at times cold summer with the rare day cracking 90* here on Pritchard Hill. Rainfall was plentiful in January and February and continued through the spring bringing an end to our water worries with 2 inches in June. The real surprise for us was the steadily cool temperatures which have been a constant this year throughout the region. These low temperature days pushed out budbreak and bloom to late April and May respectively and had us a bit concerned when veraison did not take place until mid-August! Certainly this is the coldest vintage in decades in the normally warm to quite warm Napa Valley; it has kept things interesting. Our new 22 acre vineyard plantings responded very well to the cooler temperatures and steady sunny days but the established vines, those that we depend upon to produce excellent fruit in 2010, were a bit shy and slow to develop up until late August when a burst of heat sped up the ripening process.
The greater amount of rain we had in 2010 was a relief after three years of drought; it also allowed our normally small vines to develop a larger canopy which was a real blessing during the brief but powerful heat spikes we experienced in late August. A fuller, leafy canopy crowned the vine rows and, combined with Continuum Estate’s high elevation, protected the still developing fruit from the sun’s scorching rays. The benefit of higher elevation vineyards has been more evident to me since coming to Pritchard Hill. Situated at 1325 to 1500 feet above the Napa Valley, Continuum’s vineyards are less prone to fog, frost and heat fluctuations than on the valley floor where lower elevation sites can trap the cold, fog and even heat at various times during the growing season. As each season passes, I better understand and appreciate this fabulous mountain estate. By studying the weather, aspect and soils on Pritchard Hill we continue to fine-tune our growing and winemaking choices.
The actual start of harvest began on September 30th with a small quantity of estate Merlot, near the proposed site of our winery. We then began the Cabernet harvest with the shyest portions of the upper blocks on October 12th. The remaining entirety of the estate was harvested from October 18th thru the 21st finishing with Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. This last portion of harvest began after a light rain the night of Sunday the 17th and was carried out with great care and great speed as heavy rains were due to fall from October 22nd thru the 24th. Ryan Gerhardt and his vineyard team did a heroic job harvesting all week, carefully picking each block, beginning at sunrise, before bringing the cool morning fruit to the winery. I am quite pleased with our estate fruit this year. The long, cool, late season has rewarded us with excellent flavors showing a balanced combination of ripe fruit and tannins, crisp acidity, vibrant color with character developement at lower potential alcohols.
At the winery Kurt Niznik and our cellar crew sorted each vineyard block separately, carefully selecting twice so that only the best grapes went into our oak or cement tanks for fermentation. 2010’s cooler growing season did reduce the amount of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot we received so these precious lots are undergoing fermentation in small ¼ ton bins and new oak barrels as well as in the smaller oak tanks.
Fruit at reception often was quite cool and fermentations began well and quickly. We encouraged warmer ferments earlier than normal because of the cooler, later season. Slowly we are discovering the unique flavors of that each block of vines brings to the blend. All the new wines are showing well so far with 3BTOP being the current star. It will be very interesting to evaluate maturity comparisons over time with our other star, block M. This really is a fabulous estate!
Have a happy and joyous Thanksgiving!