GROWING SEASON AND HARVEST
Overall, the 2012 growing season can be considered as a benchmark year for the Niagara Peninsula. The season saw near perfect growing conditions that were accelerated by an extremely warm spring. The weather continued to favour rapid growth through the summer, which saw consistently high temperatures and low levels of rainfall. Perfectly timed precipitation and beautifully cool evenings in late August and September lead to ideal ripeness. The vintage was reminiscent of 2010 and 2007, yielding wines with weight, structure and complexity, while retaining powerful aromatics and plenty of freshness.
The success of the 2012 vintage began with a mild winter. Pruning occurred as normal, and bud break ensued early, during the first week of May. Due to the high early spring temperatures, which started in March, frost became a risk. The exceptional air movement at our vineyard sites, however, normal rainfall levels, thereby initiating robust shoot growth in the early spring.
Vine growth continued to be rapid throughout the spring and early summer, but slowed in July and early August as temperatures rose to over 30°C (86°F) with twice the regularity of normal and rainfall was roughly half the seasonal average. These hot and dry summer conditions worked to the betterment of established vines as the accumulated soil moisture from April remained accessible to their deeper roots. In newly planted vineyards, however, mild water stress was apparent and irrigation was carried out by hand as needed. One clear benefit of the drought, however, was that disease pressure was very low. Occasional spikes in fungal activity in June, July and August were mitigated by minimal leaf thinning to increase airflow in the fruiting zone. We were able to retain enough canopy coverage, however, to prevent sunburn, which was a considerable risk given the sunny, warm conditions.
Veraison occurred during the second and third weeks of August. A mild crop thinning was performed during the last week of the month to ensure ripening given the dry weather. Fortunately, at the end of August and early in September two critically important things took place. First, night temperatures began to fall, allowing for the retention of aromatics and acidity in the grapes. Second, a series of moderate and well-timed rainfalls came during late August and early September, giving the vines a much needed dose of water that would allow for full rinening of the fruit.
In general, the harvest was rapid and compressed, being completed about two to three weeks earlier than normal. Chardonnay for sparkling wine was harvested during the last week of August. Picking for table wines was not far behind, with the Pinot Noir coming in on September 6th and 7th, followed by the Chardonnay on the 11th through 17th, and Riesling, our predominant variety, commencing on September 13th and winding up on October 4 th. Finally, Cabernet Franc came in on September 28 th through the October 16 th. Fortunately, the torrential rainfall that ensued during the second half of October – reaching near record levels at 15-18 cm (6-7 in) – was of consequence only to the Riesling that remained for late harvest. After the rains passed, the fruit dried and concentrated during the sunny and cool weather of November and despite its ripeness was nicely preserved heading into winter. Without the deep cold necessary for Icewine, however, we made the decision to not risk losing the thin-skinned Riesling clusters to break down, instead harvesting it partially frozen on January 2, 2013 for our Select Late Harvest Riesling ‘Indian Summer’.
The wines of 2012 show exceptional weight and concentration, and in this way are reminiscent of 2010 and 2007. What sets them apart from these similarly warm vintages, however, is their aromatic intensity and freshness. Across our portfolio, the wines are impressive in their youth and will reward patience over the medium and long term. With an enticing combination of power and finesse, the wines are never overbearing and always invigorating. The heat of the spring and summer, combined with the perfecty timed rainfall and cool nights of the late season explain this rare melding of ripeness and finesse.
Bud break: May 10 Yield: 3.5 tonnes/acre (56 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 22 °Brix: 19.3
Veraison: Aug. 21 pH: 3.02
Harvest: Sept. 13-Oct. 4 T.A.: 7.9
Despite the warm season, our Rieslings retain pronounced aromatics and a balanced sugar-acid ratio. Whether dry or medium-dry, they show bright tropical fruit, floral aromas and impressive weight on the palate. Softer acid levels meant that we fermented the wines slightly drier than in cooler, crisper vintages. While full bodied and highly extracted, the mineral textures and ample, well-integrated acidity of 2012 deliver pin-point balance. Eminently enjoyable upon release due to their fleshy, generous flavours, these remain wines of significant ageing potential. The robust structure of the wines will ensure at least a decade of development in the case of the top wines. Finally, the Select Late Harvest Riesling Indian Summer is deliciously balanced in its youth and will likely to peak within six to eight years, somewhat sooner than the cooler 2011 vintage.
Bud break: May 6 Yield: 3.2 tonnes/acre (55 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 20 °Brix: 22.4
Veraison: Aug. 18 pH: 3.45
Harvest: Sept. 11-17 T.A.: 6.2
For Chardonnay, 2012 is a very forward vintage in terms of fruit, displaying generous tropical aromas and flavours of apple, melon, and hints of spice. Like the Rieslings, these wines are riper and more full-bodied than 2011, with lower levels of acidity, making them best enjoyed in the near to medium term. Look for the Estate Bottled Chardonnays to peak 5-6 years, with the CSV being one of the richest and fullest bottlings of this benchmark wine ever. Finally, as a result of an unusually early harvest date, the base wine for our Traditional Method Blanc de Blancs retains sufficient acidity to support our desired 36 months of ageing sur lie prior to disgorging.
Bud break: May 7 Yield: 3.0 tonnes/acre (52 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 20 °Brix: 21.6
Veraison: Aug. 17 pH: 3.47
Harvest: Sept. 6-7 T.A.: 5.6
In 2012 we will release all three of our Pinot Noirs – including the Niagara Escarpment, Dolomite and Estate Bottled – the last of which is de-classified in lesser vintages. In all three cases, the wines rely on Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777, which we find best suited to our limestone-clay soils. Reflective of the growing season, the ‘12 Pinots are quite bold and assertive, while maintaining the classical proportions and elegance our Pinots are known for. Look for aromas of red berries and spice, along with tannins which, while somewhat more pronounced than in cooler vintages, remain silky and well integrated across all of the wines. Look for the Estate Bottled Pinot to deliver at least 5 to 7 years of ageing potential.
Bud break: May 11 Yield: 3.4 tonnes/acre (59 hl/ha)
Flowering: June 23 °Brix: 25.0
Veraison: Aug. 24 pH: 3.59
Harvest: Sept. 28-Oct. 16 T.A.: 4.9
Overall, the 2012 Cabernet Franc-based wines have a structure and flavour profile similar to the outstanding 2010 vintage. They are deep in colour with generous fruit derived from ideal ripening conditions, easily standing up to 20 months of ageing in barriques and 500L puncheons. Across the line-up, expect deeply concentrated wines exhibiting ripe, dark berry fruit and typical mint tones on the nose. In the mouth, the wines are highly structured with robust tannins, juicy blackberry fruit and smooth textures. Our continued exploration of the appassimento method, whereby we air-dry small batches of Cabernet Franc under natural ventilation, promises perhaps the finest bottling to date of our iconic ‘La Penna’ label. Overall, we anticipate the top Estate Bottled wines to deliver up to a decade of development in the bottle.