GROWING SEASON AND HARVEST
Overall, the 2011 vintage in the Niagara Peninsula was both typical and anomalous. While weather conditions throughout the growing season were anything but normal, in the end the levels of ripeness achieved at harvest were remarkably close to the five-year average for our vineyards. Temperatures fluctuated from cool to hot and back again, precipitation came in abundance and retreated, and predictably, yields were higher than average. Yet through it all the fruit was not only abundant but also packed with the right elements for making outstanding wine.
It was a mild winter in our area in 2012. With the exception of two cold nights in January, the vineyards experienced moderate temperatures and lower than average snowfall. Thus, the vineyards escaped any damage and bud counts were normal at the time of pruning.
Growth of the vines got off to a slow start as April and May produced temperatures somewhat cooler than average along with normal levels of precipitation, conditions that resulted in about a week’s delay in bud break. Although temperatures rose in June, providing higher than normal warmth, the sluggish start in early spring delayed flowering until the end of the month, about 10 days later than average.
Then came the heat. In general, it was a hot summer across North America, and our region was no exception. High temperatures throughout the summer and into September raised the growing degree-days to a point significantly higher than the 30-year average and just below the very warm 2010 vintage. We experienced many days of near record-breaking temperatures in excess of 30°C (86°F). The mercury scaled upward in July with temperatures hovering around 32°C (90°F) for extended periods, causing the vines to shut down at times, thereby slowing growth.
Unlike the wet spring, rainfall throughout the summer was lower than normal but sufficient for balanced vegetation and cluster development free from disease pressure. Veraison occurred in the final week of August, or about one week later than expected. Precipitation returned in earnest in late September, causing some concern for mildew and botrytis in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but eased at the onset of a very warm, sunny first week of October. These conditions prevailed for the remainder of the month, allowing for steady and even ripening.
Our harvest began about a week later than normal on September 12 with the picking of Chardonnay for sparkling wine, followed by Pinot Noir on September 22nd and 23rd. Chardonnay for still wines was brought in on October 4th and 5th under sunny skies that continued through the harvest for our focal grape, Riesling, during the second week of the month. The table wine harvest wrapped up with the picking of Cabernet Franc on October 28th and 29th — about the normal time for this grape — but 12 days later than for the warm 2010 harvest. With low temperatures in late December, we finished the vintage by gathering partially frozen grapes for our Select Late Harvest Riesling ‘Indian Summer’ on December 29th.
Wines from 2011 are exceptionally aromatic, and in this way comparable to 2009, especially for Riesling and Pinot Noir. While these two varieties will be appreciated for their freshness and delicacy in the short to medium term, our hunch is that the Rieslings in particular will develop exceptionally well over the longer term. While Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc may not pack the heft of the warmer 2010 vintage, the blue skies of summer and slow, cool maturation in autumn promise bright and polished wines that will not disappoint.
Bud break: May 21 Yield: 3.75 tonnes/acre (64 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 29 °Brix: 19.0
Veraison: Aug. 30 pH: 3.02
Harvest: Oct. 11-13 T.A.: 9.2 g/l
Our Riesling wines express the pronounced aromatics of the vintage, especially as compared to the warmer 2010 vintage, and possess a very balanced sugar to acid ratio. Whether dry or medium-dry in style, they show bright citrus fruit, floral aromas and a pronounced mineral texture. The wines are of medium body with pinpoint balance of residual sweetness and acidity and, perhaps above all, tremendous harmony and integration in their youth. As well, these wines are very forward and generous in flavour, making them very enjoyable to drink in their youth. That said, typical pH and acidity values for our terroir should ensure evolution and ageability for upwards of a decade for the top wines.
Bud break: May 15 Yield: 3.5 tonnes/acre (61 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 23 °Brix: 20.8
Veraison: Aug. 24 pH: 3.35
Harvest: Oct. 4-5 T.A.: 8.6 g/l
For Chardonnay, 2011 is a very forward vintage in terms of fruit, displaying generous aromas and flavours of green apple, pear and melon. Like the Rieslings, they are aromatically intense and somewhat similar to the highly perfumed 2009’s, though with lower levels of acidity, which suggests that they will be best enjoyed in the near to medium term for their freshness. In the case of the Estate Bottled Chardonnays, the wines will be at their peak with 5-6 years of bottle age. Finally, the Chardonnay base wine for our Traditional Method Blanc de Blancs promises a fresh, medium-bodied sparkling wine that will support ageing on the lees for at least three years prior to disgorging and may be capable of ageing sur lie well beyond.
Bud break: May 19 Yield: 3.4 tonnes/acre (59 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 25 °Brix: 20.8
Veraison: Aug. 23 pH: 3.24
Harvest: Sept. 22-23 T.A.: 8.6 g/l
Our Pinot Noir cuvée is made up of Dijon clones 115, 667, and 777, which we find best suited to our limestone-clay soils. The 2011 wines are lighter in colour than the somewhat riper 2010 vintage. However, they are very elegant in true Burgundian style, exhibiting pronounced aromas of red berries and spice along with mouth-watering acidity. A surprisingly tannic backbone on the palate should mean that the wines require one to two years of bottle ageing in order for them to mellow and harmonize. Though generally lighter in style, the 2011 Pinot vintage might well turn out to be a keeper, with the wines evolving well for up to four to six years.
Bud break: May 21 Yield: 3.6 tonnes/acre (62 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 29 °Brix: 23.6
Veraison: Aug. 30 pH: 3.38
Harvest: Oct. 28-29 T.A.: 5.3 g/l
The 2011 Cabernet Franc-based wines derive their surprisingly deep colour and generous fruit from the propitious ripening conditions in October. The wines are concentrated, exhibiting ripe, dark berry fruit on the nose, while on the palate, they display silky textures, robust tannins and juicy blackberry fruit that make them very drinkable upon release. Overall, they have more structure than the comparable 2009 vintage, and the heft to absorb up to 20 months of barrel ageing in new and older 225L barriques and 450L and 500L puncheons without foregoing their approachability. In this excellent vintage for this variety, we continued our exploration of the traditional appassimento method, naturally air-drying small batches of Cabernet Franc in a barn exposed to the moderating breezes of Lake Ontario that circulate along the Escarpment at our estate. The proprietary wine made from these lots, ‘La Penna’, promises an extra dimension of aromatics along with enhanced richness on the palate.