California 2009 vintage guide

Hold

Torrential early-October rain interrupted a mild summer; producers who picked in time produced supple, generous wines for the near- to medium-term

Weather conditions

Heavy May rains did something to alleviate drought conditions, but fruit set across California was nonetheless light, with sparse clusters and small berries. Summer and early Fall were dry and mild, with comparatively few heat spikes; but the calm was broken when the tail end of Super Typhoon Melor brought torrential rain in mid-October. By that point, earlier-ripening varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay had already been picked, but a minority of growers, principally in Napa and the Central Coast, still had Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah on the vine. The rain brought rot and dilution, and those who rushed to harvest before it began were amply justified.

California, Santa Cruz, Mount Eden Vineyards vineyards

California, Mount Eden Vineyards

The Wines

The best wines reveal the bright aromatics characteristic of an even growing season and supple, generous personalities. In general, the 2009s throughout California are less ample than their more exuberant, heady 2008 predecessors. On the other hand, they do not posses the crisp fruit tones of the notably cooler 2010 vintage. Gentle tannic structures and moderate acidities should make for medium-term longevity

Producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Sonoma, Santa Barbara and the Santa Cruz Mountains excelled in 2009, as they picked before the October rains and benefited from the moderate growing season. Cabernet Sauvignon producers were more vulnerable to rain: many, like Ridge Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Spottswoode Estate in Napa Valley, picked their last grapes on October 12th, only a day before the rain began. Those who opted to wait suffered, so California’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon crop is more heterogeneous. Late-harvesters of Syrah and other Rhône varieties on the Central Coast suffered too, for the same reasons.

California, Ridge Vineyards, Lytton Springs

Ridge Vineyards, Lytton Springs

Best Producers

Cabernet Sauvignon: Ridge Vineyards, Philip Togni Vineyard, Dunn Vineyards, Dominus Estate, Heitz Wine Cellars, Corison, Forman

Chardonnay: Varner, Ridge Vineyards, Mount Eden, Stony Hill

Pinot Noir: Rhys, Varner, Calera, Au Bon Climat, Rivers-Marie, Joseph Swan

Rhône varieties: Radio-Coteau, Peay, Arnot-Roberts, Qupé, Edmunds St. John