SOURCE: Copper Cane

November 17, 2014 13:45 ET

Copper Cane 2014 Harvest Report: We're Predicting One of the Best Vintages of the Past 20

RUTHERFORD, CA--(Marketwired - Nov 17, 2014) - You may read it here first, but we'll bet big money this isn't the only place you'll be hearing about it: the 2014 vintage across the great state of California is shaping up to be one of the best in decades. Think 2004, or 1997, if you want reference markers. The state's drought, now in its third year, has raised concerns for other agricultural endeavors but growing conditions for wine grapes could not have been more ideal. By the time harvest began, all the physical precursors for picking were in line, with slightly higher than average sugar content.

Four big forces lined up to bring this about. First and most important, relative humidity was much higher than normal -- in the range of 15-20% above normal. "It felt like Maui some mornings," said Matthew Heil, Copper Cane's director of fruit supply. "The weather was like being in a greenhouse, and the vines responded as if they were. They were metabolically very active." It was really no surprise that veraison started early and went fast. The much higher humidity did increase powdery mildew pressure, but we kept on top of it.

Second were consistently warmer daytime temps and equally warm night time temperatures -- without fail. We recorded about two to five degrees above normal for both night and day, and no heat spikes or cool periods intervened. As a result, ripening progressed rapidly and we saw a near perfect convergence of physiological ripeness with ample sugar and a balanced acidity. 

"The seeds, cane wood and stems were lignified earlier than I've seen in any vintage," noted Joe Wagner, owner and winemaker of Copper Cane. "Although slightly higher alcohol will be a hallmark of this vintage, the full force flavors, intensity in structure and brilliant acidity will keep 2014 etched in my mind as a near perfect growing season for all varietals, across all regions." 

Even Zinfandel, notorious for uneven ripening, ripened evenly. We talked to many Zin growers this harvest, and everyone is saying this will probably be one of the best vintages for this variety since the early 1990s.

Third, the hours of daily sunshine were very high -- a unique factor for coastal vineyards. We had very little fog, and more days of sunshine without the heat events that would cause the fruit to sunburn. We had a thick marine layer all the way from Santa Barbara County to the Sonoma Coast during the late spring and early summer. You could see the fog, but it never really came inland.

"The vines were workhorses as long as nutrition and canopy management were kept in balance," said Kyle Stroud, director of viticulture. "Coming off the 2012 and 2013 vintages where the vines hung heavy crops, this year was about balancing the vine out so it would not get stressed and damage its productivity in future years. To say the least, 2014 had its unique aspects, such as watering during winter months as we did not have much rain, but those decisions will keep the vines healthy for future years."

In Monterey County and across the North Coast, we started picking two to two and a half weeks ahead of normal, and in Santa Barbara harvest began an astounding four weeks early. Oregon was also early out of the gate, with crews in the vineyards two to three weeks ahead of the norm.

Fourth and finally is the drought itself. Grapevines are a perennial crop and can adapt to a wide range of growing conditions. In wet years, grapevines push a lot of vegetation as the root system seeks to increase their area and help secure their long-term survival. "In years with too much rainfall, we can get larger canopies and above average crop yields," Heil said. "In dry vintages, like the one we just had, the vines put all of their effort into growing an average yield of fruit. If we're lucky and the other conditions align as they did this year, the fruit produced is of exceptional quality."

Here's what we're seeing so far with our wines:

Meiomi Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Without a doubt we got the ripeness level and physiological fruit maturity we wanted on both Pinot and Chardonnay. "With Meiomi Chardonnay, I'm expecting more tropical fruit characteristics like pineapple, guava and honeydew -- especially from Sonoma vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Carneros and Sonoma Valley," Wagner said. "Meiomi Pinot is already showing insane concentration in both texture and flavor, with a firm acidity shining through in both the early and late picks."

Elouan Pinot Noir. What a season we had in Oregon this year -- the kind we haven't seen for a long time with above average temps and a very even growing season that led to higher Brix. "I'm looking for more varietal intensity in the fruit -- more of a 'ripe Burgundy' style if I had to pinpoint the character of our first fermentations already laid to rest in barrel," Wagner said. "This wine should be a little bit richer and fuller bodied than what is typical of Oregon Pinot, which generally is very lean." The Umpqua Valley AVA showed the most intensity while subtlety is seen in the Willamette Valley Pinots.

Carne Humana Red. We had an unbelievable growing season in the northern Napa Valley, perfect really, with plenty of consistent warmth -- just what the sun-loving reds that go into the Carne Humana blend love. "Allowing the fruit to hang longer, especially on old, non-irrigated vines, proved to be the most difficult decision as there was no moisture in the top layers of soil," Wagner said. "We kept a keen eye on the warm weather and once we saw anything over 90 in the forecast, we pulled the fruit in before incurring major dehydration on those vines. That extra period of time allowed the skins to take on a leathery feel, as if breaking down a bit, which gave us amazing extraction potential in the cellar." 

Beran California Zinfandel. In January of 2015, Copper Cane will be releasing a 2012 California-appellated Zinfandel called Beran. "From this 2014 vintage, I'm expecting aromatic and very dark Zins, with black and white pepper notes, firm acids and a rich, fruity and supple core," said Beran winemaker John Lopez. "The aromatics should be just beautiful, with expression that will continue to blossom at all stages of winemaking -- from fermentation to barrel aging through bottling and beyond."

Contact Information

  • Contact Information:
    Tiffany van Gorder
    Balzac Communications
    Phone: 707-255-7667
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