Predicting during fall harvest how wines will taste on release years later is as futile as predicting during spring training how Major League Baseball teams will fare or picking political races a year in advance.
In 2001 some baseball pundits predicted the Seattle Mariners would finish last in the American League West before they rattled off 116 wins, the most in major league history.
In presidential politics, there was a time when Rudy Giuliani was the odds on favorite for the Republican nomination and John Edwards was the frontrunner for Democrats during the 2008 race for the White House. Both candidacies quickly collapsed.
Despite the quixotic nature of anticipating wine quality well in advance of maturity, many of the Woodinville winemakers continue to look into their symbolic crystal balls. Many Woodinville producers are optimistic about the 2011 harvest. Most are cautious.
A freeze last winter comprimised many of the vines that would be bearing fruit this fall, reducing crop levels and slowing down the fruit ripening process. Many of the vines that survived across the state have been playing catch-up ever since and now the ripening process is abutting dangerously close against the fall rains that could lead to mildew that could ruin grapes, especially the tightly bunched clusters.
Winemakers are comparing this year’s harvest to last year’s. Both vintages are noted for a cold winter and late ripening in the fall. Despite the pessimistic outlook from the 2010 vintage many of the winemakers say much of their 2010 juice in the barrel is maturing better than expected.
“I didn’t think a lot of the wine from the 2010 harvest was anything to write home about,” recalled before adding, “And then the next thing you know the wines came out of the shell last summer.
“I don’t try to judge the vintage during harvest. I just try to wait to look at what the wines are going to do.”
Chris Sparkman, founder and , said his 2010 wines are the best yet but expects his 2011 wines to surpass them in quality across the board.
“Last year it was ‘oh no, gloom and doom’ and you know what? They are the best wines that Sparkman has ever made,” he said. “We were very patient and let things come to us. Our team is now a year older and a year better.”
Many of the historically thriving vineyards, such as Pepperbridge in Walla Walla and Champoux in the Horse Heaven Hills, have been heavily compromised by last winter’s freeze and are expected to yield as little as 10 percent of their normal crop this harvest. Young vines also suffered, as many weren’t robust enough to survive the elements.
Despite the freeze, a warm early September across much of the state has helped many of the vineyards catch up in heat units. However, it may not be enough time for many of the vines to ripen completely as rains forecasted for much of early next week could force growers to harvest grapes before full maturity or risk mildew settling in tight grape clusters.
Flavors and complexity are developing nicely in the fruit, winemakers and grape growers say. However, sugar levels, which ultimately turn into alcohol, are lagging behind. Many predict late ripening varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon will struggle to ripen.
“For people who like really ripe cabernet, it’s not going to be their year,” said Ross Mickel, founder and winemaker at Ross Mickel Winery. Mickel expects a more elegant and lower alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon across much of the state.
also said he will be adjusting his winemaking towards the more elegant style that the 2011 vintage promises.
“It’s going to challenge the winemakers like me because I make a fruit forward style of wine,” Correll said. “It’s going to force me to make a different style of wine. To be honest, I think it’s going to be a good thing.”
The threat of rain may mean that many of the winemakers will be picking much of their fruit at the same time. As much as over an inch of rain is expected across many of the wine growing regions in Eastern Washington.
“The last three years have been challenging so I don’t know at what point you start calling it the norm,” said . “You just have to adjust to prepare to bring more fruit at the same time. In the past, we’ve been relying on bringing in fruit in three rotations. We are prepared this year to bring all of our fruit at one time.”
For Sparkman harvest is like baseball and the winemakers are on defense.
“Mother nature always bats last,” Sparkman said. “It always will. You just have to accept it.”
And the results, like in baseball, are unpredictable.
Wine Pick of the Week: 08 Efeste Final Final, Columbia Valley
Thusly named Final Final because it’s the last wine blended each vintage, this wine is a pure and unadulterated expression of Washington red wine. Winemaker Brennon Leighton uses indigenous yeasts during fermentation. The wine is unfiltered and unfined.
The 08 Final Final marries the fruit qualities of Syrah with the unmistakable power and structure of Cabernet Sauvignon to create a wine far more luxurious than the $27 price tag suggests. This expressive wine greets the senses with black fruit (blackberry, black cherry), blueberries, plums, espresso, a touch of dried mint, exotic spices, smoke and lithe minerality.
Serve this wine with burgers while tailgating at football games this fall. Alternately, order out a Monster Double from in Woodinville and enjoy the juicy burger with this juicy wine.
The wine is available at the Efeste tasting room in Woodinville opened Friday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The wine is also available at Portalis in Ballard or .