A wet June and October led to delayed ripening, much rot and a late harvest. But, it was by no means disastrous.
For a second consecutive vintage, California’s Cabernet Sauvignon producers dealt with uncharacteristically cool, wet conditions in 2011. California’s notoriously warm summer didn’t materialise in 2011. Harvests were typically two to three weeks later than usual, with July through October temperatures in the mid-20Cs rather than the low 30Cs. Slower than typical ripening, and two harvest –time rainstorms, put the brakes on Cabernet maturation, encouraging winemakers to pick grapes earlier than usual. Those who did largely triumphed. Those who waited for sunny days to follow the late-October rains were hamstrung when the warmth did not appear, resulting in botrytis and mildew problems in the grapes. Vineyard and cellar crews worked flat out to meticulously cull damaged clusters and berries before they reached the crusher or press.
Evaluations of wines from the major Californian Cabernet producing region of Napa Valley, Sonoma, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles demonstrate that phenolic maturity can be achieved at lower sugar levels. The message to consumers is that the 2011s have plenty of juicy California fruit, and the nuances that vanish when the grapes get too ripe. Less can be more.
The vast majority of medium to high priced Californian Cabernets from 2011 are elegant, with great structure and palate-cleansing acidity, and classic varietal traits of cedar, forest floor, savoury herbs and tobacco leaf. Many sport a pleasant earthiness and a graphite-like minerality; very few have over ripeness and sweetness, as it was nearly impossible to produce such potency in this cofounding (for California) vintage.