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The 2004 Vintage

Close your eyes: It is a dark moonless night. Suddenly the quiet is shattered by the roar and whistle of a long train; then the night is opened by the shaft of light coming from the locomotive’s lamp. This is the kind of impact made on the senses by our 2004 estate pinot noir, a wine of profound depth, great focus and clarity, an enchanting radiance, and explosive aromatics. A wine as long in its expression as that freight train winding through the dark countryside.

What are the conditions that make such a wine possible? 2004 was by no means an easy year for farming, so perhaps it was the inclusion of a broad selection of clones and blocs from our highly complex site (see the blend table below); maybe it was the arrival on the scene of our winemaker Mark Doherty who spent serious time in the vineyards, imagining the finished wine, prior to overseeing the harvest and crush. Or it could have been the advances in fruit handling and processing (bloc by bloc with no blending until bottling) that resulted in faster, gentler and more thorough passage from vine to fermentor. Might it have been the new hand bottling machine and holding tanks that enabled the wine to be racked safely and cleanly without pumping or filtering prior to bottling. Or was it the blessed arrival on the ranch of Allondra, born on Jan. 4 to our talented vineyard manager, Everardo, and his wife Martha. Who can truly say what combination of the innumerable variables of site and climate compose such a vintage. All we know is that each year is unique, each has its own spirit, and that when the components of climate and soil and culture come together in their mysterious way, the wine can be indeed a remarkable product. Our strategy is to follow the pattern drawn by nature on our site and to intervene as minimally as possible: In the role of cup bearer, so to speak.

The vines leafed out early due to record heat in early March; growth was slowed by a cool and dry spring. Bloom began 4/27 and the crop did not set until the first week of June. June was hot; July cooled off; but the heat shot up 8/8 and lasted until mid September. We began harvesting 8/17 (a record early date) and finished up 9/10, earliest finish in our history. A very imperfect year in terms of even fruit development, fruit weight per bunch and vine, and veraision (hang time). In July an extended period of intense morning fog with heavy dew caused mildew and botrytis in the vigorous vine canopy. At harvest we had to hand sort in the field every bunch in the infected blocs. No doubt punishment for past sins.

The fruit was picked into small lugs that were moved at once from field to cool room. It was sorted before and after destemming so every bunch and berry(!) was checked before loading into the open top fermentors. Fermentation was by native yeast and went well. The first lots were pressed off and barreled down on 9/22. 50% new French oak was used. The wine responded well in the cellar. Barrel tasting of the ten lots revealed an unusually rapid evolution into an integrated wine, On 1/24/05 Mark racked by hand to tank without filtering. There was almost no sediment transferred to the new sealed tank. The result: a beautul wine with the color and clarity of brilliant rubies. A week later all 849 cases were bottled on one very long day. To the fullest extent possible, all our ability, resources, experience, and care went into the production of the 2004 fruit and wine.


In 2004 we produced only one wine at Hirsch Vineyards:

2004 Hirsch Vineyards “Hirsch” Estate Pinot Noir

The decision to put all 35 barrels into one cuvee was made after a series of blind tasting trials clearly showed that the best expression of our site in 2004 was one blend. In fact, we tried subtracting some of the barrels that seemed uncomplimentary, and the difference was negative: the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The wine reflects in its structure the complexity of the site.
849 cs produced, 14.3% alc, 3.48 pH