Now that harvest is over and we are busy pressing the last of our lots and putting wines into barrels, lets recap the season.
The weather during the growing season was a bit cooler than average. We have seen later bud break and bloom in the spring, relatively mild weather and a slightly delayed veraison in the summer. Sure there were a few heat spikes during the month of July, and it was a warmer summer that the last two years, but compared to the long term average, it was still cooler. The weather remained warm and pleasant until mid-October when isolated rain showers began. Fortunately the rains were short and did not cause any severe damage or mildew problems. Now that the fruit is in, the weather has turned fairly cold and we are expecting a fair amount of rain. I am glad that we received all our grapes before the weather had a chance to spoil them on the vines.
This was an exciting harvest for Renwood this year. We have invested heavily in new equipment and this harvest gave us the opportunity to play with all of our new toys. We constructed new catwalks in the cellar which made pump overs, additions and most any other winemaking tasks much easier and more efficient. While it may be difficult to see how catwalks can make better wine, when you’re in the thick of it, catwalks allowed us to get more accomplished in the limited amount of time available. This translated into healthier fermentations that went to completion more easily. We also redesigned our open top tanks and added a pneumatic punch down device. This allowed us to compare the effects in wines where the cap was managed via pump over and via punch down. The verdict is still out as both methods have their pros and cons; but it does allow for another layer of versatility and complexity in our wines. Last year we began increasing our concentration of new oak barrels in our barrels program and this year we continued adding new barrels and more French Oak. We believe that this trend will once again further improve the quality of our wines.
Even with the cooler spring and delayed bloom, the warmer end of summer brought harvest right on time. The white grapes began arriving in late August and red grapes began in mid-September. Most vineyards that provide our grapes had yields that were 10 to 20% more than expected, and some were over by as much as 60%. It was a large crop and yet the quality remained very high. Flavors and aromas developed much earlier than normal and in many cases we were waiting for sugar and acid balances to mature before picking. The preliminary tastings have shown very well structured wines with deep color and high tannin levels. In time the tannins will mellow and allow the fruit to express itself more. We are very excited with the initial results and expect great things from the wines of 2012. Stay tuned for more updates from the Renwood cellar.
Zinfandel is as American as apple pie, making it the perfect choice for that most American of holidays, Thanksgiving. Although Zinfandel was not present on our shores in 1621, when the Pilgrims first feasted with their Native American neighbors at Plymouth Colony (hmm, Plymouth), it would have been right at home on their tables, especially as the main dish was venison.
Zinfandel arrived in the U.S. two centuries later, by most accounts through the importation of vine cuttings from the Austrian Imperial plant collection. By 1832, a nursery in Boston was advertising “Zinfendal” vines, which became quite popular. Migrating west, Zinfandel struck gold in the Sierra Foothills during the early days of the Gold Rush in the late 1840s. An easy-to- cultivate vine, it produced hearty, robust red wines that quenched the thirst of the hard-working prospectors who flocked to the region seeking their fortunes. Later in the century, when the root louse Phylloxera destroyed most of California’s vineyards, Zinfandel largely survived because it was planted on rootstock more resistant to the bug. During Prohibition, the Volstead Act allowed home winemakers to vinify up to 200 gallons of wine annually, and Zinfandel became even more popular, because its sturdy constitution allowed it to survive the long journey back east. By the early 1970s, Zinfandel was the main component in premium red wine blends that captivated a new generation of wine drinkers, and subsequently became a prized varietal wine.
Over the years, there have been numerous theories about Zinfandel’s origin, but the long-running mystery was finally solved a decade ago, when researchers determined, through DNA fingerprinting, that Zinfandel was identical to an ancient Croatian grape called “Crljenak Kaštelanski.” (Try saying that fast five times while gobbling some turkey!)
Despite its European origins, Zinfandel today is considered America’s “Heritage” Wine, quite appropriately, because the wines it produces are bold and brash, much like Americans themselves. So, as you ponder which wines to savor with your Thanksgiving dinner, cast a vote for Zinfandel, Renwood’s specialty and America’s true pilgrim wine.