May 23, 2013 | by Lisa Mattson
At large, Punxsutawney Phil’s 2013 prognostication for an early spring did little for his already less-than-stellar batting average, but here in Sonoma, his stock has gone up amongst local winegrowers. This year’s winter and spring climatic conditions stumped us all, vines included. February Sonoma temperatures hit highs in the ‘60s in all but one day, with March answering in the ‘70s, and both April and May mercury levels expanding into the ‘90s. With only 5 inches of rain through May 12 compared to the average of 26 inches for this time, this has so far been one of the driest years on record. Mother Nature has clearly shuffled the deck and is dealing out a completely new hand and set of challenges for 2013.
Taking their cues from changing temperatures and daylight hours, our vines were deluded into thinking it was later in the season than it actually was. As soil temperatures quickly rose in February, differences in water potential between the plant cells of the roots and their surrounding environment resulted in the early onset of moisture uptake. Translocated as sap back up through the trunk to the upper extremities of the vines, this moisture was observed dripping from the wounds left from winter pruning as early as late February. This “bleeding,” as it is termed in the industry, is the first sign of life as the vineyards wake from their winter dormancy.
Not long after the first drops of sap appeared, the buds that were specifically selected by Ranch Manager Brent Young and his viticultural team to become this year’s fruit-bearing canes began swelling in anticipation of the new growing season. For most of our Chardonnay growing in the well-drained gravelly soils of the Russian River appellation, budbreak came alarmingly early. Although beautiful, this early appearance for an already early-to-bud variety led to sleepless nights for many growers and winemakers alike, as any night-time temperatures dipping below 32°F could be devastating for the newly exposed green vine growth. While nighttime digits dropped dangerously close on a few occasions, the vines remain free of any frost-inflicted damage, and winegrowers all around are beginning to exhale and even celebrate the evenness of this year’s crop development.
The gusty 40-mph winds of April 14, which fortunately caused little damage to the new shoots, may win the title of most vine-threatening event of spring 2013. In addition to the potential physical harm to the vines, these spring gusts, paired with the extraordinarily dry conditions, are the main ingredients for fire destruction, as Napa can already attest to this year. While the near record rainfall received during November and December of 2012 provided sufficient available ground water multiple feet below the surface for the deep-rooted vines to access, springtime was short lived for the cover crops, grasses, and other shallow-rooted plants that cannot reach these water reserves. Viticulturalists are on high alert to ensure this dried vegetation does not become kindling for wild fires.
Following the Chardonnay by a couple of weeks, budbreak in the warmer Alexander Valley appellation for our Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and the late-budding Cabernet Sauvignon fell right on cue; our lower-lying Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards were the last to push on April 15. While the threat of frost damage for the more winter-hardy Cabernet Sauvignon may not be as great as it is for the earlier breaking varieties due to its lazy start, this variety will no doubt inflict an equal, if not greater, amount of stress when it comes to reaching physiological maturity before the fall rains begin towards the end of the growing season.
In the winery, élevage for our 2012 Russian River Chardonnay in barrel is complete. Daily blind tastings by the winemaking team determined the cut-off point for the partial malolactic conversion at roughly 24%, and a two-month sur-lie aging with bâtonnage every other week was employed—just enough to develop a creamy mid-palate and roundness to the overall mouthfeel while retaining the precision, natural acidity and bright varietal fruit character we endlessly strive to achieve in the vineyards throughout the growing season. The blend is now waiting to be the first to run through our new bottling line in June.
While the 2011 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon continues its élevage in barrel, the 2012 final blend was constructed in March after a long series of tasting sessions of the potential vineyard blocks. With the high yield and high-quality level of the grapes arriving to the crush deck in 2012—two distinctions usually not found together in the same sentence—the customary declassification of lots not deemed worthy of the final blend proved more difficult and time consuming than usual. Using the structure and personality of the 2012 vintage as a guide, specific cooperages were selected to play the best supporting role, and the blend is currently marrying gracefully in our large oak-uprights in preparation for barreling in the upcoming months. Though the 2011 and 2012 Jordan Cabernet will not hit the market until 2015 and 2016, the much anticipated 2009 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Jordan Chardonnay are now finding their way into consumer hands.
The 2009 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is a dream come true for Winemaker Rob Davis. Visually stunning with a deep garnet- ruby hue, this wine possesses an unprecedented elegance of fruit expression, lively acidity, tannin structure and oak integration. Aromas of blackberry, black cherry and cassis are like perfume to the nose, supported by subtle hints of baking spice and vanilla from oak aging. The mouthfeel is soft, silky and robing with a seemingly never-ending finish. This is truly a vintage showcasing the elegance, finesse, and restraint that has always been the vision for the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon and is an honest expression of the best that the Alexander Valley has to offer.
The 2011 Jordan Chardonnay is an elegant expression of a vintage that wanted anything but to be tamed. With a visually stimulating lemony, straw-yellow hue, this wine delivers aromatics of freshly cut Fuji and Granny Smith apples, stone fruits and white flowers—think fresh and lively, not buttery and overly oaky. On the palate, it is driven by a level of Russian River minerality that would without a doubt create envy amongst Burgundians. This driving minerality backed with bright fruit is supported by subtle, well-integrated French oak and framed by a lively acidity. From the provocative nose, through the creamy mid-palate to the refreshingly long finish, this wine exudes finesse, precision and balance—truly a classic.
With the new leaves exposed and the sun once again taking on the role of energy-supplier to the vines, the rapid shoot development stage has progressed nothing less than, well, rapidly. Growing 3 to 5 centimeters per day, the vines are literally unfolding in front of our eyes. The viticultural team has performed the laborious task of suckering—removing any new green vine growth that was not intended to be a part of this year’s program—to focus every ounce of energy on these developing shoots. As of May 22, flowering is nearly complete for all varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon in some of our higher elevation blocks, giving us an early glimpse into the fruitfulness of the 2013 growing season. Early May was marked by warm, sunny days with very little wind and no rain, leading to perfect, uniform flowering. The baby crop is currently as big and beautiful as 2012—an unexpected surprise.
It is a time of transformation, accompanied by a great deal of excitement and hope for an unwritten and unpredictable story of place and time that will be dictated by Mother Nature, but captured and expressed by Winemaker Rob Davis (pictured right) through two wines, our Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Russian River Chardonnay. We thank you for your continued support and look forward to keeping you posted as the story unfolds.