The 2019 Wines
It has taken a bit longer than usual for me to get my brain around the character of the 2019 vintage. Part of this is because of all the distractions related to COVID and having the focus of my life shifted from winemaking to health and economic survival, but Coronoavirus aside, the ways the vines and the wines responded to the 2019 growing season were unpredictable.
Most of us remember it as a relatively low drama year. No floods, fewer heat waves, and so on. Even the planned power outages that came late in the year, while very inconvenient for most and damaging to tourism, had less of an impact on the vineyards than the fires of 2017. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the 2019 wines are a bit of a mixed bag. It is not so much that the wines are bad, rather that they are all over the map in terms of their characteristics. Some wines are dense and concentrated, not unlike the 2016 wines. Others are bright, lean and pretty, somewhat like the 2018s. Others remind me of the wines from the 2006 vintage--perfumed, lighter in color but packed with flavor. It's difficult to characterize a vintage when there is so much variation, even within a single vineyard.
An example of this is the Barlow Homestead Vineyard which surrounds the winery where I work. This vineyard has been the backbone of my Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir program for several years now, and produces year in and year out, wines of remarkable purity and concentration. Most years, the yields are modest but pretty consistent across the Pinot Noir blocks. In 2019 there were big differences in yields, cluster size and concentration from one block to the next, even within the same clone. Much of the reason for that was unsettled weather at bloom time, which disrupted set in some blocks but not in others. So some blocks made low yielding, intense wine while other blocks gave prettier, lighter bodied wine. Almost like two different vintages in the same year. And in Carneros, at The Shop, the Gamay has a very cool vintage kind of character, a bit lighter in color than the last couple of years and very fresh, while the Pinot Noir right next to it is dark and brooding, like a wine from a warmer vintage.
South of San Francisco, in the Santa Lucia Highlands, yields were dramatically down and yet the wines are lighter in body than the last couple of years and intensely aromatic. The Highlands, in years of low yields, almost always produces very dense and ripe wines, but not this year. I like the 2019 wines from the Highlands a lot, but for entirely different reasons than I thought I would. Other varieties from Monterey County--I make a little Merlot and Petit Verdot from Arroyo Seco--also have the high aromatic, moderate body characteristic. The wines seem livelier, brighter. This is a most welcome development.
The 2019 vintage suits me well, when it comes to my wines. Pinot Noir and Gamay, as well as other aromatic reds, are especially well suited to this kind of vintage where size and power take a back seat to aromatics. Might not be so well liked by those in the business of making big, plush, structured wines, although the handful of "big reds" that I make for other clients are shaping up nicely, and seem to have plenty of stuffing, at least to my palate.
Because most of the wine I make for myself and clients is bottled prior to the next harvest, at the winery we are on the cusp of the busy bottling season. I am excited to get these wines into bottle and see where they go over the next year and a half before they are released for sale. I think they could end up surprising us.