GROWING SEASON AND HARVEST
The 2010 vintage might well be one of the ripest in the recent history of Niagara winegrowing, ranking alongside great years such as 2007, 2002 and 1998.
The winter months of 2009-2010 passed with slightly lower than normal snowfall and relatively mild temperatures. With no significant bud damage from winter, pruning was completed leaving a normal number of buds per vine.
April and May were much warmer and drier than average with bud break occurring a full two weeks ahead of normal. Development was slowed slightly in June as temperatures returned to normal levels and the vines were nourished with levels of precipitation very near the historic monthly average. Flowering occurred on schedule during the second and third weeks of the month dependent on the variety.
Throughout the summer the weather was consistently warmer than the 30-year average, though not extreme in heat or humidity, with relatively few days exceeding 30°C or 80% humidity. Alternating dry and wet spells provided the soil with moderate levels of moisture, with rainfall sufficient to encourage consistent vegetative growth while not bringing about undue pressure from Powdery mildew (oidium), Downy mildew (peronospora), or botrytis. The lack of disease pressure was a blessing as leaf removal was not necessary for white varieties, something that we prefer to avoid in such vintages so as to avoid loss of aromatic compounds. It is also worth noting that balanced vegetation during the summer months allowed the vines to recover nicely from hail damage that hit many blocks of our vineyard a year earlier.
On the whole, by the end of August the season had produced more growing degree-days than all of 2009. Entering the critical maturation period in late August, ripening was about 14 days ahead of the norm. With the arrival of autumn, daytime temperatures were near average with slightly cooler nights than normal. The increased diurnal temperature variation served to temper ripening and promote more gradual phenolic development. This, combined with modest but well-timed rainfall and the continued absence of mildew and botrytis, provided ideal ripening conditions throughout September and October.
The harvest began about 10 days early on the last days of August with the picking of Chardonnay for sparkling wine, followed by Pinot Noir on September 8th and 9th. We returned to Chardonnay for our still wines during the third and fourth weeks of the month. Everything then switched to our focal grape, Riesling, which was perhaps the most advanced of all varieties. Advanced sugar and flavour development justified a fast and furious Riesling harvest during the last week of September, fully two weeks prior to the norm. By picking as much as a week earlier than many, we were able to maintain freshness and acidity. Finally, harvest wound down on October 16th when Cabernet Franc came in, once again in the range of 10 to 14 days ahead of normal. In terms of production for sparkling and still wines, despite the ideal growing season our yields were down by 30% on average, due to the fact that some of our vineyard blocks were recovering from the hail damage of June 2009.
As regards the late harvest season, our Select Late Harvest Riesling ‘Indian Summer’ was picked from partially frozen grapes in mid-December. The exceptionally clean, disease-free condition of Riesling at the end of the regular harvest, coupled with the preserving effect of a typically cool November delivered very sound fruit with sugars at typical levels of around 30º Brix. Despite the warmer growing season, the fruit retained ample acidity and pH levels for balance in the finished wine.
All in all, the above normal heat of this vintage combined with sufficient rainfall and the cooler fall nights produced very healthy, evenly ripened fruit with ideal sugar-to-acid ratios. Undoubtedly 2010 has produced exceptionally deep and attractive red wines. Not to be underestimated, though, are the whites. While some similarly warm vintages in the past have produced early maturing white wines, 2010 appears to have produced whites across the board with excellent structure and aromatic complexity. Greater body and concentration compensate for the somewhat lower acidity in these wines.
Resisting the temptation to let the sound Riesling clusters hang longer than necessary, we picked as much as a week earlier than we might have in order to retain acidity at harvest. We have no regrets for this, as not only do the wines demonstrate ripe notes of peach, melon and exotic spice, but they retain the grapefruit, lemon drop and yellow plum characteristics typical of our terroir. Fuller bodied and drier than the 2009 Rieslings due to the higher potential alcohols and lower acids in the musts, the Estate-level Rieslings pack tremendous weight and density without foregoing the brisk feel and sleek, mineral undertones that have come to define these wines. We expect these wines to develop in bottle for up to a decade. For the Select Late Harvest Riesling Indian Summer, the lower than usual acids suggest that while it is deliciously balanced in its early years, it will mature within six to eight years, somewhat sooner than cooler vintages.
Bud break: May 15 Yield: 2.4 tonnes/acre (39 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 23 °Brix: 20.2
Veraison: Aug. 24 pH: 3.17
Harvest: Sept. 23–25 T.A.: 9.4 g/L
The risk of over-ripeness is nowhere greater than in the base wine for our Traditional Method Blanc de Blancs. But by avoiding undue exposure of the fruit to the sun and impeding malolatic fermentation (MLF) during vinification, we managed to produce a filigreed sparkling wine that will support ageing on the lees for upwards of three years. Meanwhile the table wines show a level of richness and fullness reflective of the growing season. Again, our philosophy of minimizing MLF so as to retain acidity was easily justifiable as malic acid counts were low and preserving acidity of particular importance. As such, the wines retain ample, well-integrated acidity, showing no sharpness or angularity in their youth. Alcohol levels that are somewhat higher than usual are nicely balanced by extract and density on the palate. We are pleased that, like the Rieslings, the Chardonnays retain remarkable aromatic purity, similar to the highly perfumed 2009’s. This is especially true of the wines fermented in stainless steel from the Musqué clone. Overall, the Estate Chardonnays demonstrate great weight and power, balanced by delicate acids and stony minerality. They should offer at least eight years of development in bottle.
Bud break: May 9 Yield: 2.6 tonnes/acre (45 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 17 °Brix: 21.7
Veraison: Aug. 18 pH: 3.33
Harvest: Sept. 23–25 T.A.: 8.1 g/l
Our Pinot Noir cuvée is made up of three Dijon clones: 115, 667, and 777. This delicate, thin-skinned grape was selectively handpicked to ensure that only the best fruit was processed. The dry days and cooler nights of the Pinot harvest made for sound fruit that required very little sorting. Shorter maceration and a judicious oak regime delivered wines that emphasize the elegance and finesse of this grape. The profile of these wines tracks toward red berries and spice, and while showing ripe fruit reflective of the growing season, they do not come across as heavy or tannic. In sum, the wines maintain the silky texture, harmony and drinkability that our style is known for. Reduced tonnage due to the continued recovery of several vineyard blocks from the hailstorm of 2009 meant that all of our fruit from Cave Spring Vineyard was dedicated to our Niagara Peninsula and Dolomite Pinots, precluding us from bottling an Estate tier wine.
Bud break: May 12 Yield: 3.0 tonnes/acre (52 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 19 °Brix: 21.0
Veraison: Aug. 17 pH: 3.22
Harvest: Sept. 8–9 T.A.: 7.8 g/l
Resembling very much the warm, dry 2007 vintage, Cabernet Franc at harvest had especially small berries and consequently a high skin-to-juice ratio. This resulted in outstanding concentration of colour, aromas and flavours. Unlike 2007, phenolic ripeness was more complete due to higher moisture levels in the soil. This translates into more supple wines with softer, more integrated tannins that will be significantly more approachable in their youth than the 2007’s. Notes of blackberry, sweet red cherries and hints of cassis are the dominant flavours, with classic Cabernet Franc notes of mint and sage in the background. We also continued our exploration of the traditional appassimento method, naturally air-drying small batches of Cabernet Franc at our estate. In 2010, this proprietary wine – called ‘La Penna’ – promises to be one of our best efforts yet, showing a combination of concentration and finesse that the 2005 vintage exhibits so well. All in all, 2010 promises some of the ripest, most balanced examples of this variety from our vineyards in the past decade.
Bud break: May 15 Yield: 3.3 tonnes/acre (57 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 23 °Brix: 23.3
Veraison: Aug. 25 pH: 3.43
Harvest: Oct. 16 T.A.: 5.4 g/l