We are in the midst of a historic drought in California, and many people have been asking us how this will affect the wines for the 2014 vintage. As with everything in the winemaking process, this is a complicated question with many variables influencing the answer, but we’ll do our best to break it down.
Drought years can be good for high-end wine production. When the vines are stressed and have to dig deeper into the earth to search for water, the result is more complex, higher quality wines. 2013 was a drought year and we’re very optimistic about the wines from this exciting vintage.
The biggest effect that drought has on wine production is in vineyard yield. The largest wineries making mass quantities of wine in dry areas like the Central Valley may struggle to meet their budgeted production numbers, but for us, lower yield equals higher quality. Our approach in the vineyard is always to keep yield down so that the vines can focus their efforts on fewer grapes leading to greater concentration and flavor intensity. In a year like this, nature does much of this work for us.
There are of course risks associated with drought, especially when combined with the unseasonably warm temperatures we’ve been experiencing throughout the winter months. The vines were tricked by this weather into coming out of their winter dormancy earlier than usual – sap has been flowing and buds have been breaking for several weeks now whereas normally this process would just barely be starting.
Early bud break leaves the vines particularly susceptible to spring frosts (which are sometimes combated with water, something that is in very short supply…). Luckily we’ve had some rain in the past few weeks with more on the horizon - this helps to alleviate our frost worries and ease the drought stress just a bit. While this growing season is certain to prevent many challenges, we’re confident that we can continue to produce exceptional wines as always in 2014.
But of course there’s still so much of the story to be told for the vintage. As the French say, “Septembre fait le vin” - "September makes the wine” - meaning that the ultimate quality of the wine from a particular vintage has much more to do with the weather during harvest than the rest of the year. So as usual we’ll be taking a wait and see approach and hoping for a dry autumn with no heat spikes. In the meantime you can help us (and the entire populace of California) by saying a little prayer or doing your best rain dance!