As you have heard by now, the 2010 vintage will go down as the most challenging growing season in Northern California since the phoenix-like revival of U.S. wine acceptance began in the early 1970s. The wines, by the way, have mostly turned out to be excellent.
There is a certain irony in what made 2010 challenging in that the cause of so much consternation was exactly what brings most grape growers the most joy – MOTHER NATURE.
Terrorists, war, politicians, business skullduggery, college tuition, all the usual suspects had nothing to do with our high stress levels in 2010. Instead it was our fate in dealing with our omnipotent hosts that caused growers to lose sleep and/or a portion of their grapes.
Yet upon reflection, this one grower believes there were more than enough positive contributions from our boss, Mother Nature, to counterbalance the economic loss most growers suffered. Take a few examples of his experiences throughout the season.
He and his wife live in a comfortable old farm house constructed in 1906. From every window, he sees his vines; cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and zinfandel. There is one particular window in the kitchen he considers his favorite. Located in front of the window is a small elevated coffee table on which sits a reading lamp. Two stools are all that will fit on the side of the table away from the window and they both allow an unobstructed view into the vineyard.
Upon close observance, shallow ruts worn into the hardwood floor can be seen under one of the stools. How many times has that stool been pushed to and from its place? Most mornings, the grower arises before dawn and brews a pot of fresh coffee. He sips from his favorite mug as he reads yesterday’s newspaper (today’s paper has yet to be delivered to his rural house). Every minute or so, he glances up and out the window towards his vines. Vine rows oriented as though he were sitting upon a military reviewing stand and his troops were passing before him. The rows run the distance of five soccer fields, terminating where the rising oak-covered terrain beneath Arrowhead Mountain becomes too steep to farm. He can see the entire length of eight rows from his vantage point. Anything within the confines of those rows can be observed. The peripheral rows become a blur of general grapevine canopy. But he can tell where the block of cabernet franc ends and merlot begins by different color shades reflected by leaves.
One cool spring dawn, just as fresh shoots were pushing from the dormant winter wood and before the cover crop was mowed, he observed in his eight rows two lean coyotes hunting as a team. They emerged from the oaks at the far end, advancing slowly towards his window. They marched, ears cocked, in perfect unison, five rows separating them. They never varied this pacing. They were hoping to catch a jack rabbit that was hiding the in the grass in the row centered between them.
All for naught. The two advanced within one hundred feet of the grower’s window before breaking off their patrol. He could feel their dejection.
The coolest growing season in the history of Sonoma Valley was jolted one day in August by a short heat wave. One day’s temperature shot from 54 to 106 degrees in six hours.
The grower looked up from his coffee and paper to observe a flock of wild turkeys assembled beneath the vines of his eight rows. Not an unusual occurrence, he sees turkeys quite often, but on this soon-to-be-hot day they were closer than normal to the house. Just beyond the window, the grower’s wife has planted a butterfly and humming bird attracting garden, in which sits a small fountain. Hummingbirds and song birds often dip in for a sip. The turkeys advanced en masse towards the fountain, approaching as though it was the last watering hole in the Serengeti, surrounded by lions. At last, one young hen jumped up and began to sip, a mere thirty feet from the window. One by one, he watched them all drink.
Later on, after all his grapes were harvested, he sat at the window reflecting upon the year. Would he be able to recover the year’s cost of growing fine wine grapes after what Mother Nature had done to him in 2010?
Because harvest was over, he took time to linger a bit over his coffee. Through the window as he was reflecting, subconsciously he was observing the many shades of yellows and reds throughout the vines. The sun began to rise over a thin layer of clouds, casting a pink hue. Before his eyes, his vineyard turned into a kaleidoscope of fall colors. He smiled inwardly as he poured another cup – this must be what ‘they’ refer to as ‘lifestyle’ in the vineyard business.