Vintage 2021 - The Lake County Report
My 2021 wine vintage report starts with: What? No fires? That was our number one concern entering 2021, but it never materialized in the North Coast growing region. While our neighbors in the Sierra Foothills and near Shasta weren’t so fortunate, we were incredibly lucky this year to avoid another smoke-filled year.
As the vines started growing, it was clear that we never really had winter rains though. When I was pruning vines in April, the wood was bone dry when sap should have been running, and the foamy, desiccated feel of the canes was alarming. Production was down about 30% for us in 2020 as drought stress and a relatively heavy crop in 2019 made it clear that fruit would be light, and 2021 felt even more extreme, but by how much?
With all of the concerns over fire, labor, and supply chain problems, I hadn’t really thought about heat, which is a given in Lake County to an extent. But as a pervasive heat bubble settled over Washington and Idaho, it became clear that a new issue was forming. With Portland hitting 115 degrees (I lived there for 18 years – we never experienced anything remotely like that!) a peculiar weather pattern dominated from June into mid-August.
The above graph shows how we had 71 days over 95 degrees at the vineyard this year from June through September. We were 25-30% hotter than Calistoga and Cloverdale, often the hottest points in Sonoma and Napa counties. And every time I drove back home over the Richmond Bridge, I couldn’t believe how cold it was in the East Bay, and often gray as that inland heat sucked in Bay moisture, making things abnormally cool here, just 80 miles away. It felt fantastic.
The upshot of this additional heat and water stress is that our 2021 crop was down about 60-70%. Tiny tiny berries everywhere. Instead of a normal 12 barrels of Barbera or Sangiovese, we just squeeked out 4. Grenache just one. Aglianico went from 8 to 3. We couldn’t even fill a barrel with Chardonnay. Remember that when Covid hit, the wine surplus was 29 million gallons of Cabernet that couldn’t be sold. Now, we are entering into a state of possible wine shortage in the California market, though since no bottles are available, and labels can’t be printed with the adhesive paper shortage, we are all in the same boat. 2015 was the last comparable crop resulting from drought, but it was abnormally cool. In general, Lake and Mendocino Counties had record low crops, will moving south it was cooler and crops were closer to normal/
The good thing is that everyone is talking climate now. The weather chaos is front and center, and though some people unfairly enjoyed a cool and moderate vintage (looking at you Sonoma and Napa) the reality of nature calling the shots has really hit home. There is talk of Aglianico in Napa, going back 1950’s-style wide planting, and changing how we manage fruit during the growing season. And, this is all good, since for a long time we thought we were in control, and that nature would always just be there with relative consistency. Resiliency is the new word, and something that has real gravitas now in the midst of a new world of wine concerns, including decimating frost in France and fires in the Mediterranean. Here is to entering 2022 with high hopes.