California Wine's 2010 Vintage Report: Rainy and Sunny And Totally Confused


Paul Einbund is the wine director of the Slanted Door restaurant group. He also works as the sommelier at Frances, and has worked at Coi and more. Look for him here every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter @pauleinbund.

Yesterday temperatures here climbed up to 80 degrees—and it’s almost Thanksgiving! If you're a bit of a headcase because of our weather patterns this year, imagine how someone who has to rely on Mother Nature to produce their livelihood is feeling about now. Of course, I'm specifically speaking of  vinters and the ones that I’ve spoken to are feeling a little bruised. Heat, then rain, then some heat, then more rain. Can you really doubt climate change?  

Because of this, 2010 is looking like a strange year for wine. James Johnson has a vineyard in Napa Valley where he makes very elegant style Cabernets. He says that his grapes should be fine, but he picks at least a few weeks before most people do in the valley. I don't imagine there will be a lot of fruit bombs coming from the Napa this year. Andy Peay from Peay Vineyards up in the Sonoma Coast says that though they picked all of their fruit, a lot of it won't be drinkable.  This time of year is critical for the grapes as they soak up the sun.  When the rain comes we hope for enough days of sunlight in a row to dry up the vineyards and get the ripening happening again.  This year that didn't ever seem to take place.  In the Sonoma Coast wine is routinely picked in November when even then they struggle to get ripe.  Throw in a bunch of rain and you get mold, and grapes that aren't as ripe as usual. 

So what happens when a winery is forced to pick their grapes before they want to?  A lot more bulk wine—that’s what happens. It means that the premium wines like Peay Vineyards will produce far fewer cases of wine than usual. It also means that negociant wines—most famously  Three Thieves —will have more juice to work with.

And for us? Well, we won't have much wine to age in our wine cellars, gathering dust and stories for future generations. Instead, we'll have lots of affordable wine to guzzle and see if we can’t move up in our per capita wine consumption rates!

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