Tim’s Harvest 2011 Wrap-Up

December 14th, 2011

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The view above the foggy valley floor from Continuum Estate's winery site

It has been quite a year at Continuum Estate. While it is still early days, I believe we are looking at a fine vintage, perhaps an extremely fine vintage.  The  2011 wines, some still in tank with others already put to barrel, have  real depth of flavor, a subtle nuance, and lower alcohols than normal. We are quite excited about 2011!

To better understand the year, let’s take a look at the conditions up on Pritchard Hill.

Here at Continuum Estate, our normal temperatures are more moderate than the valley floor with fewer high temperature days as well as fewer days on the cold side when compared to Oakville. Much of the reason for this is our wonderful altitude; at 1300 to 1600 feet above sea level we are protected from extreme temperature variations and are well above the fog line.  Since our arrival here in 2008, we have enjoyed four vintages.  2008 and 2009 were both normal, that is they were warm years with harvest taking place beginning in early September and finishing by middle to end of the same month. On the other hand, 2010 and 2011 have both been quite a bit cooler than normal and wetter than the last few years as, from 2007-2009, we were in a drought pattern. 2010 gave us challenges reminiscent of the late 1960’s and early 70’s with a late beginning to the year and a later harvest. 2011 repeated this pattern but with greater rainfall in the spring, a more uneven fruit set, and harvest about a month later than normal (two weeks later than 2009!) 2011 began with a wet winter and spring which continued on into mid-June with significant rainfall delaying bloom on Pritchard Hill. Overall precipitation for the season was more than a third above normal and these cooler/moister weather patterns delayed vine development dramatically. We found ourselves behind schedule by 3-4 weeks pretty much throughout the growing season.

As there were no high temperatures this year, Ryan Gerhardt and Continuum’s vineyard team had to be extra vigilant, continually managing canopy growth to balance the vine and its naturally low yields to ensure an even ripening process with optimum light and air flow surrounding the fruit. Overall, Continuum Estate set a smaller crop and was blessed by a balanced canopy and so was better able to ripen the fruit across our 42 acres of producing vines. On average, the estate fruit spent 130 days on the vine from bloom to harvest as compared to 125 days in 2010 and 129 in 2009. These extra days made all the difference, developing deeper flavors and richer character in the fruit. What really stands out in this vintage in relationship to our Pritchard Hill estate are the well drained rocky soils which allow the vines to enter into a period of water stress and begin the ripening process earlier than vineyards on the valley floor, thereby giving us the edge in flavor and achieving excellent ripeness in spite of the challenges thrown at our vines this year.

Harvest began on Pritchard Hill with the onset of stormy, rainy weather which dropped nearly three inches of rain between October 3rd and 11th. This heavy rain damaged some grape skins with bunch rot developing in a number of blocks around the estate. Dry and warmer weather between October 17th and 21st allowed the vineyard team to harvest about a third of our fruit with excellent ripeness. Other blocks still needed more time to gain sugar and flavor and so we waited as strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures gave us excellent ripening conditions for the next week. Harvest began again on October 29th and continued until November 3rd with the remaining 2/3s of the crop having benefitted from greater hang time. Total yields at the estate were down from last year but overall the fruit was excellent with fantastic flavors and ripeness with lower brix levels. This season’s cooler weather may also mean lower yields for 2012.

At the winery Kurt Niznik, Carrie Findleton 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. 2011’s growing season brought the return of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from our estate, which had been severely reduced by the cool temperatures in 2010. These precious lots, which add so much to Continuum’s blend, are undergoing fermentation in small ¼ ton bins and smaller oak tanks.
Fruit at reception often was quite cool and fermentations began well and quickly. 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 looks to be a superlative vintage at Continuum Estate- ripe fruit and more importantly ripe tannins so necessary for a fine wine that is built to age. I think that this will be our best vintage yet!

Happy Holidays,

Tim Mondavi