The Story Behind the Missing Vintage

We recently sent out an e-mail to our mailing list customers informing them we will not be releasing a 2011 vintage from our vineyard, and instead are offering an older vintage (2005) from our library for the holidays. This is after 15 consecutive annual releases–here is the story behind our “missing vintage.”

We have often referred to the late ripening aspect of Dyer Vineyard as a positive attribute—longer hang time, slower ripening in the shorter and cooler days of October, avoiding the heat spikes that earlier in the season can lead to dehydration, high brix, and excessive alcohol.  Our site is northeast facing, and partially sheltered from the afternoon sun by the ridge of the Mayacamas range to the southwest. In 2011 an early October storm brought in four inches of rain, and subsequent humid weather caused botrytis to start in many clusters before the final stages of ripening could occur. We dropped fruit, picked clusters selectively and have never had more people on the sorting table. We picked the brains of some of our Oregon colleagues who routinely deal with botrytis-affected fruit—this is something Napa Valley Cabernet producers normally don’t have to deal with. In fact, this is the only time in 40 years we have seen botrytis in Cabernet. For those not familiar with botrytis, it is a grey mold that can affect many fruits, and most people have seen it growing on fruit held too long. It is considered a positive attribute in some white wines—referred to as the “noble rot” responsible for concentrating and sweetening desert wines such as Sauterne and Trockenbeerenauslese. But in red wines it makes the pigment very unstable, resulting in lighter colored wines.

We gave the wine plenty of time to develop, taking it through the normal two years of barrel aging. We found that it benefited from a higher percentage of new French oak, so we purchased some more new barrels. Being optimistic types, we felt it was showing better each time we tasted it. But the “drop dead” decision time was the point at which we had to order bottling supplies—bottles, corks, and foils. We had to admit at that point it was not up to our usual standards. We used a wine broker to sell the wine in bulk to another producer who was able to blend it with other wine.

It is important to us to point out that our decision not to bottle does not reflect on the decision by other wineries to bottle Cabernet from this vintage. The concept of terroir includes a focus on all aspects of a vineyard site—in this case the amount of rain, the subsequent fog, and the timing of these weather events versus the stage of ripening were very specific to our site. This is also a reminder of the inherent risk in single vineyard designated wines—it is truly “letting it all hang out.”