Verdict

After a tough year for business, many California wineries were rewarded with excellent and plentiful fruit for their wines after a near perfect growing season and favourable harvest conditions, at least before rain hit in mid-October. Expect good wines across the board – Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are likely to stand out.

‘The wine I’m seeing already is awesome,’ says Tom Hinde, president of Flowers Winery on the Sonoma Coast. ‘There is great natural acidity in our Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay, focused fruit and good purity of flavours. We think 2009 is an exceptional year.’

Gary Eberle at Eberle Winery in Paso Robles adds,’ ‘We are very pleased with the 2009 vintage – the colours and aromatics are great. The early part of the growing season was uniform then we had a hot spell in September. When the rain came in October, everything was in except Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet is bullet proof. We are most impressed by the Cabernet colours and balance in the mouth.’

Weather

Unlike 2008, there was minimal spring frost across California’s appellations this year and abundant spring rains replenished water reserves. Early summer temperatures were cool allowing acidity levels to develop well. Heat spikes towards late August and early September caused some concern but by the time harvest started grapes were generally in excellent condition.

Heavy rain on 13 October, with the harvest still under way, was a setback for those yet to pick grapes especially thinner-skinned varieties such as Chardonnay and Merlot.

‘A potent storm front swept through northern California on 13 October,’ says Bill Legion, president of Hahn Family Wines, ‘bringing heavy rains and powerful winds to the Monterey and San Francisco Bay areas. The Santa Lucia and Santa Cruz mountains recorded the largest rainfall totals – between 10 and 15 inches, according to the National Weather Service.’

The wet conditions and oppressive humidity caused fungal disease to appear and reduced the crop in some vineyards, but Cabernet is said to have weathered the storm for most.

Production

California’s overall crop is expected to be around 3.4m tons, a figure close to the average of the decade and up from just over 3m tons in 2008. Sonoma County’s crop is expected to be 200,000 tons, a similar level to 2007.

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