Winemaker video: 2010 vintage harvest report, Alexander and Russian River valleys

by on November 4, 2010

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It’s easy to generalize a vintage as classic or mediocre. Or as winemakers like to say, “challenging.” My definition of the 2010 vintage? Well, it was the best of times and the worst of times.

Defined by intense flavors, the range of fruit quality varied tremendously from appellation, block, varietal and time of harvest. Specific sites delivered unbelievable character whereas others–separated by less than a mile–are actually still hanging out there today, struggling for a modicum of mature flavor. The overall quality of 2010 cannot be painted in the broad strokes often employed by the media. The window of opportunity for greatness in 2010 might have been small, but we found it.

In my 35 years as winemaker at Jordan, I’ve never seen fruit quality this good. The flavors in our Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot are complex and intense, offering tannin content that is so beautifully balanced. The fruit we harvested from Alexander Valley may be the best grapes I have seen in my career. The late spring and generally cool summer resulted in much of the crop coming in at lower than usual sugar content; this year, it is Mother Nature rather than the winemaker who will fashion the wines to be lower in alcohol. It’s refreshing to see the pendulum swinging back our way, whether at the hand of the winemaker or Mother Nature.

A brief recap of harvest dates:

My 35th harvest began September 17, when we picked one lot of Russian River Valley Chardonnay grapes. Then we waited (impatiently) until September 29, when Russian River Valley’s harvest kicked into high gear after a weekend heat spike. Grapes arrived at the winery with our optimal sugar levels of 23.5-24.5 Brix. Our team worked diligently on the sorting table to remove any berries affected by the recent heat. I always purchase more grapes than we need to ensure only the top lots are bottled as Jordan Chardonnay, so we finished the year with our average tons harvested despite roughly 20 percent of grapes lost due to sunburn. The final selected grapes had intense fruit flavors and bright acids due to the long, cool growing season.

Harvest of our red grapes commenced October 4 with Jordan estate Merlot.  Again, grapes arrived with complex, fully developed tannins and fruit flavors at our optimal sugar levels of 23.5-24.5 Brix, which is ideal for our balanced house style. Estate Petit Verdot followed on October 11-12, before the Cabernet Sauvignon lots began arriving from our favorite growers in Alexander Valley.  Our final lot of Cabernet Sauvignon destined for Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon arrived at the crushpad just before the rain began to fall October 22. Our continued focus on sourcing fruit in ideal locations for Cabernet proved extremely valuable this year, as fruit maturation was reached well ahead of other vineyard locations.  Across the spectrum, fruit and tannin maturity was ideal for our style. Having all the fruit crushed and fermenting in our tanks before the big rain storm was very comforting. It was a race against the clock that pretty much coincided with the San Francisco Giants winning the National League Championship Series. As a life-long Giants’ fan, I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of 2010 on so many levels. What can I say?  2010 proved to be a “World” class year.  In the words of Mike Krukow, “epic joy.”

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  • Ron Saikowski

    Rob,

    How did you manage with juggling all of your tanks with such spurts in incoming grapes. Wow. I know that must have been a challenge! As a winemaker and wine columnist, I have been following my friends all over California. Some were fine, some exceleent, some will not be there next year due to weather and the economy! In Texas, we had our “harvest of the century” with grape growing almost textbook perfect with chemistry, maturity, and flavor intensity peaking with quantities coming in at 20-25% greater yields than anticipated. Last year, the grapes were also intense, but the weather greatly restricted our yields to around 25% of anticipated yields.

    We sourced “old Vine” Zins from Lodi which were excellent and Cabs from Sierra Madres which were very intense and great Brix (26.4) but low nitrogen.

    I believe that Jordan has one of the better, more consistent web media activities compared to others. I interned with AVV down the street from you in 07. Their web prescense was looking good back then but Jordan is now at the head of the pack when it comes to balanced social media!

  • http://www.jordanwinery.com Lisa

    It was all about time management and teamwork. Rob said he was so impressed how everyone worked together on the timing so that tanks were literally being emptied as the next truck of grapes was arriving. Tanks were empty for less than five minutes before filled again. In some cases we couldn’t do as long as an extended maceration as hoped for the first lots that arrived because we needed the tank space. We also tried to bring in some of the red grapes a little warmer so their fermentations would begin faster, making the tank space available sooner.

  • http://www.jordanwinery.com Lisa

    Dear Ron,
    Thank you for your kind comments about our video blog and online presence. Please look us up next time you’re back in Alexander Valley. You’re welcome to stay the night in one of our suites. Working on getting responses to your other questions over the holiday.
    Best,
    Lisa

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  • Ferd

    The 2010 is mediocre. What hype is winemaker spreading?

  • lisamattson

    Hi Ferd,
    2010 was mediocre for many winemakers who prefer to make over-extracted cabernets that require extended hang time. Fall rains and cool weather arrived, and their fruit was still on the vine. We almost always pick before the fall rains because we make a lower-alcohol, more elegant style of Cabernet. So for us, 2010 was really a dream vintage. It proves what you can do in cool years when you pick grapes at their prime and source from great vineyards.
    Cheers,
    Lisa Mattson