Wine highs and lows

Regional grapes endured hot-potato days this past summer.

Regional grapes endured hot-potato days this past summer.

As long ago as July, winemakers statewide were sweating—and not from the high temperatures, but the lack of them. They wrung their hands and watched the sky; the sun soared in all its flame and fury, but where was its heat?

Indeed, the spring was among the very coolest in memory, and grape growers worried that their fruit wouldn’t attain the sugar levels needed to hit desired alcohol levels or bear that general California character that wines only develop after long, hot summers in the sun. Some makers of big-bodied fruit bombs feared a “European” vintage was in the making.

Now, the harvest is in and winemakers are reflecting on the season with more optimism than pessimism.

In the Lodi appellation, sugar levels are down “across the board,” says Stuart Spencer, winemaker at St. Amant Winery. Yet he considers the crop top-notch. Spencer reports his zinfandel and barbera grapes to have “some great flavors,” but says they’re “more restrained and less full-bodied” than they’ve been in hotter years.

At Miraflores Winery in Placerville, winemaker Marco Cappelli says the season was a roller coaster of highs and lows. The brief-yet-crushing heat wave of August killed 20 percent of his crop in days—sunburn, Cappelli says—while September’s hot spell saved the season, finally bringing the grapes to ripeness. Still, the fruit that went to the press three weeks late in mid-October is apt to produce low-alcohol, high-acid wine “with a lot going on,” Cappelli says. Namely, “a delicacy and focus of fruit.” He expects particularly spicy 2010 syrahs and merlots with black olive and interesting vegetable notes.

If you take the winemakers’ word for it, then buy your futures now, but the skeptical among you can sneak a taste on November 13 and 14, at the First Sip Lodi Wine Weekend. Here, more than 40 Lodi-area wineries will be pouring select wines, including some freshly fermented juice from 2010. Learn more at