Here’s something you don’t read every year: A top-quality Napa winery has decided to not harvest its grapes this year.
According to a release from Kathy Jarvis at Jarvis Communications in Culver City, Hidden Ridge Vineyard owners Casidy Ward and Lynn Hofacket have opted to not harvest any fruit from their 60-acre vineyard on Spring Mountain due to what Ward and Hofacket call an “inconsistent growing season.”
Several writers and bloggers have commented on the difficult 2010 vintage for northern California (including Alder here) but this is the first report I’ve seen that someone decided the grapes weren’t good enough to pick. While Ward and Hofacket said it was difficult decision to go without a 2010 vintage wine for their Cabernet Sauvignon the choice is in line with their commitment to produce only the best wines possible.
According to a statement issued by Ward and Hofacket, the fruit simply wasn’t up to their tight standards.
“The wonderful thing about our Hidden Ridge Vineyard is that we’re able to capture the flavors of this rare and special place in a bottle from year to year,” said Ward. “Our vineyard truly expresses each year’s growing season and all of the wonderful variants each year brings. Our wines may not taste the exactly the same every year, but they do need to taste great.”
He said the decision to not harvest was made with the approval of his winemaking team of Marco DiGiulio and Timothy Milos.
Hidden Ridge includes some high elevation (up to 1,700 feet), extremely steep vineyards (up to 55 degrees, according to the winery’s website, which puts them in the almost-as-steep-as-Switzerland category) which even in the best years don’t overproduce grapes.
You’d think this Cabernet Sauvignon would reach the stratospheric prices demanded by other Napa producers but at $40 a bottle, Hidden Ridge remains in the affordable range.
Because it’s so difficult and labor-intensive to harvest the grapes in this remote vineyard in the Mayacamas Mountains between Sonoma and Napa counties (access is by foot, 4-wheel truck or helicopter), the owners and winemakers decided to simply leave the grapes instead of harvesting them and trying to sell them on the bulk market.
While it’s not unheard of for a winery to skip a vintage or two, it must have been a difficult decision in the ultra-competitive world of California Cabernet Sauvignon.
Winemaking is an endeavor where you get but one chance a year to make your reputation.
Ward and Hofacket are counting on their previous vintages, along with the mystique of being daring enough to not make a wine when the grapes aren’t of quality, to keep their reputation intact and their wines in demand.
This year, Labor Day marks more than the traditional end of summer, it also brings an end to what we’ve come to know as Australian “Champagne.”
Not to worry, you’ll still be able to purchase your favorite down-under bubbly but with the official enforcement of the EU-Australia Wine Trade Agreement beginning Sept. 1, you’ll no longer see Australian wines labeled Champagne, Port or Sherry.
“This agreement between Australia and the European Union is a step forward for protecting consumers,” said Sonia Smith, director of the Champagne Bureau. “When consumers buy a bottle of wine, they should be able to rely on the truth of the label.”
According to its Web site, the Champagne Bureau is the “official U.S. representative of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), a trade association which represents the grape growers and houses of Champagne, France.
According to the Champagne Bureau, more than half of all sparkling wines sold in the U.S. are mislabeled Champagne.
”It’s only Champagne when the wine is from Champagne, France,” Smith said. “Australia joins the European Union and a long list of nations, all of which have agreed to recognize and protect wine regional names such as Champagne.”
You can’t label a sweet wine as Port unless is comes from the Porto region, Sherry has to come from Jerez and Chianti Classico must be from Chianti, among the many wines and regions now protected under various international agreements.
However, as you might notice by reading between the lines, in a loophole in an existing law, American vintners still can label their sparkling wines as Champagne.
A Dec., 2006, Congressional action banned the use of 16 European place names and asked that domestic sparkling wines should be labeled just that, sparkling wines.
However, a grandfather clause sidestepped the issue by allowing an exception for some older brands which still use the word Champagne on their labels.
Since then, the Champagne Bureau has pushed their “Unmask the Truth” campaign, which features a Zorro-like mask over a bottle of American Champagne. Or “Champagne” in quotes, as the bureau likes to write it.
“U.S. consumers deserve the same protection as Australians”, lamented Smith.
According to the Champagne Bureau, there are seven U.S. winemaking regions Napa Valley, Sonoma, Oregon, Paso Robles, Walla Walla, Long Island and Washington State) supporting the effort to protect Champagne.
Together with seven international regions (Jerez, Porto, Chianti Classico, Tokaj, Victoria, Rioja, Spain and Western Australia), the American regions signed a Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin, which Smith said recognizes the importance of protecting wine locations and their names.
Will it make consumers quit asking for “Champagne” when ever they feel like something bubbly?
Hardly. Whether it’s legal or not, “Champagne” has become a near-generic term for anything bubbly, whether it’s a Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco or French Champagne.
We don’t disagree with the protection of place names, we simply recognize it’s a long uphill battle to convert the vocabulary of someone simply looking for a delightful refresher.