Every year winemakers across the world predict, plan and of course, pray for a great vintage. We know it never turns out the same but we draw upon our knowledge, technical tools and of course, perspective from colleagues, to prepare for the onslaught of fruit. While we’re still wrapping up the 2013 vintage in Idaho and it’s too early to tell what the final quality will be, this vintage provides some notable highlights and challenges.
First, the good news.
The spring and summer were quite warm and this weather accelerated the ripening of some of our grapes. In fact, the growing degree days (a tool we utilize to correlate the season’s heat and plant growth) were almost exactly the same as our warm 2007 vintage. What does this mean for winemakers and wine drinkers alike? The quality from early to mid-ripening grapes such as Chardonnay, Viognier and Syrah is fantastic with intense color, bold flavors and rich mouthfeel. Several wineries have harvested all of their fruit while others are waiting on their Cabernet Sauvignon and other late ripening varieties. Grapes for late harvest and ice wines are still hanging on the vine and will be for some time so you may see some fruit while out visiting the tasting rooms this fall.
But rarely is a vintage perfect and the 2013 vintage in Idaho is no different. Grape yields were down for many growers 10-20% due to the frosts and freezes incurred this past winter. Thus, while the wines produced in 2013 appear to be of high quality, there may be less of them available. Several sections of vineyards were in the process of being retrained this year and growth has been strong. We hope for even more great grapes for the 2014 vintage.
The heavy rains encountered at the end of September caused some damage to later harvested varieties such as Riesling and Malbec. Luckily, in many cases the splitting of grapes caused some shrivel but little rot, much to the relief of winemakers throughout Southern Idaho. While both afflictions can be dealt with in the cellar with increased fruit sorting and sanitation, rots have a much stronger potential impact on juice quality. Shrivel decreases fruit yield and can impact flavors at high levels. However, issues with browning and premature oxidation of wines and, in the worst cases, presence of off-flavors in the resulting wines can be of concern with high levels of rot.
In a perfect world, we would have perfect fruit every season. Yet this would make our lives far too easy and our wines very boring. Part of the joy of being a winemaker involves taking nature’s bounty of the vintage and producing a wine that showcases the best qualities of the fruit as well as the unique character of the season. The Idaho wines of 2013 are sure to be full of life and character with bright fruit and full flavors. Now it’s just up to us winemakers to treat them well.