2011 Harvest Wrap-up: Dry Creek Valley Yields Low, but Wine Quality is Promising

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In Dry Creek Valley, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel were the standout varieties for 2011; yields were low for late-ripening red varieties and the wines will be more delicate in style.

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Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley

The wines resulting from this vintage are actually pretty appropriate to where the market is trending - toward lower alcohols and more delicacy

Growers and winemakers in Dry Creek Valley collectively gave thanks over the holiday weekend that the long and, by many accounts, challenging 2011 harvest had finally ended. Throughout the valley, many expressed thoughts very similar to those of Mick Unti, winemaker at Unti Vineyards, who concluded, “Throughout harvest, I was pretty worried. But now that I’ve gone through all of our batches one, twice, three times, I have to say - I’m actually pretty excited.”

While the outcome of the vintage will ultimately be proven in the glass, Dry Creek Valley winemakers report with unanimity two things about their 2011 wines: 1) With the exception of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, quantities will be much lower than average, and 2) Late-ripening varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, will yield wines lower in alcohol and more restrained in style than in recent vintages.

Says Jason Passalacqua, a fourth generation Dry Creek Valley winegrower and owner of Passalacqua Winery, “The wines resulting from this vintage are actually pretty appropriate to where the market is trending - toward lower alcohols and more delicacy, rather than the big cocktail wines that had been in demand for the last decade or so.”

Shelly Rafanelli, winemaker at A. Rafanelli Winery, summarized her harvest experience this way: “It was a huge relief that we got all of our Zinfandel and Petite Sirah in prior to the rains, especially since last year’s Zin harvest was pretty light - we’re grateful that yields and quality were excellent this year. As for Cab and Merlot, they’re tougher-skinned varieties, so we felt they could handle the rain and needed some extra hang time. We waited and waited as long as we could, but the wines will definitely be lower in alcohol - which I personally enjoy, but we’ll have to see how our customers vote.”

For growers committed to organic or biodynamic farming, the moist harvest conditions presented particular challenges. “We don’t use chemicals of any kind, so our options are pretty limited in terms of combating rot,” says Unti. He jokes, “We’re definitely walking a lot closer to the ground than when harvest started. But we dealt with it by harvesting some blocks early and designating them for our rosé program, and just going through the remaining blocks bunch by bunch and pulling off any compromised fruit. By the time we finished, we had sorted that fruit three times - once on the vine, once during the pick, and then going through it berry by berry before we crushed it.”

Greg Chambers, owner and winemaker of Kachina Vineyards, remarked, “This was a year the winemaker and the grower had to work very closely together to make decisions about what and when to pick. Usually, I check on the fruit a couple of times throughout the growing season, but this year I was in the vineyards every two to three days.”

Though growers faced challenges with late-ripening reds, reports were enthusiastic about Dry Creek Valley’s signature white variety, Sauvignon Blanc. Growers reported exceptional results, with fruit coming into the winery “intensely aromatic and lush,” according to Passalacqua - though quantities were down by as much as 50 percent in some vineyards.

About Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley:
The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley® (WDCV) is an association of more than 60 wineries and 150 growers, of which most are family-owned and multi-generational, located in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California. WDCV is dedicated to advancing the recognition, enhancement and preservation of Dry Creek Valley as a premium winegrowing region. Dry Creek Valley is known for its signature varietal Zinfandel and the pristine and unspoiled beauty of the valley. http://www.wdcv.com


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Michelle McCue
Fredman McCue Communications
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