The 2011 vintage is over. The young wines are now in barrel and have given us a peek under the covers of what to expect from them; and I can happily say that Twenty-Eleven vintage would make the old-timers - Larry Solari, Louis Martini, Robert Mondavi, George de Latour, Charlie Beringer and Andre Tchelistcheff - swoon.
Twenty-Eleven as a vintage started out brilliantly – long, cool growing season, some late Spring rains thinning out the potentially robust crop, near average summer temps with no elongated heat spikes – the vines were happy. Almost immediately post verasion in late August we began to see mature flavors in grapes that we all hope for in a vintage. Temperatures remained average in September, vines remained healthy, there was an incredible purity to the fruit flavors and balanced ripening (sugar, acid, tannin) was in front of us. At Larkmead we were excited about the prospect of harvesting at our own schedule; anticipating the year to follow a trajectory like 2006 when red grape harvest was spread out over a period of more than a month.
However, two and a half inches of rain over the course of one week in early October changed our plans. Up and down Highway 29 there was a bit of cautious optimism; the un-spoken question was whether we would be able to harvest before the next potential rainfall. Thankfully that wasn’t an issue as the next two weeks saw higher than average temperatures with a few days peaking above 90F. On October 20th we began picking Cabernet. Six days and a 120 tons later we took a break to focus on winemaking.
Those first three weeks of October made for a tough vintage; no one knew for sure what to expect from the potential wines. But, in the cellar, it wasn’t long before we were enthusiastic about what was before us. The fermentations were text-book healthy; temperatures trended nicely to a peak 86F and sugars converted to alcohol at an even pace. We averaged about 22 days on the skins and secondary fermentations are currently taking place in barrel.
The early read on the wines is exciting. The balanced flavors we saw early on in the vineyard are present throughout the wines we put to barrel. The vintage will be characterized by its ease of drinkability – bright, balanced red wines that will find a place at the table in their youth and will gain weight and deep nuances in their mid-life (think the 2005 wines right now) before returning to their red fruit dominant, dried-herb, tobacco and refreshing acid and tannin (think the 1998 and 2000 wines right now) structure that will hold them for aging of 10+ years. We’ll be fully evaluating the wines in January when they have finished maloactic fermentation. A further write-up and an update on the bottling of the 2010 vintage in barrel will be posted then. In the meantime, have a great Holiday season, everyone here at Larkmead wishes you health, happiness and good drinking.