The 2011 Vintage
The 2011 vintage was a marvel for pinot noir and chardonnay at Hirsch Vineyards, and it produced some of our finest wines to date. A difficult spring evolved into a cool, clear summer. Similar to 2010 with its cool temperatures, 2011 was also entirely different in that the skies were clear – light, light, light! – and dry, and the weather was equable throughout the crucial growing season and verasion. Physiological development was in concert with the fruit and sugar development, resulting in wines that are intense, dense and complex, with balanced fruit expression and alcohol.
By late December 2010, the vines were asleep and ready for pruning, so we started earlier than usual. This proved to be a miscalculation as it warmed up in the middle of January and stayed warm well into February. The buds began to swell and peel (called “popcorn”) and in some spots were a day or two from opening. Fortunately it cooled down by January 13 and stayed cold and wet till end March when temperatures got into the mid to high 70’s. Then more cold, winds and rain through late April.
We were fearing a repeat of the 2010 vintage with sustained overcast skies and windy cold. May was very cool with five inches of rain through June 5. While there was widespread shatter of the crop in many other growing sites, the cold at Hirsch inhibited bloom until the worst weather was past. Thus our extreme site protected us, and our vines were not affected. However, when it did finally bloom on June 15, the flowers were vulnerable to the rain that fell on June 28 and there was shatter, ultimately lowering fruit yields. Further, the early pruning came back to bite us as the cold, wet weather produced very irregular shoot growth amongst the vines. In some cases, shoots were severely stunted and there were many sterile shoots and some with only one bunch.
David and our vineyard manager Everardo were shaking their heads and muttering mordantly about going through another difficult season. Then it warmed up from June 30 to July 10, the crop set, the skies cleared and we were visited by the most sustained equable weather in decades: moderate day and night temps under clear, balmy skies. (One of the great myths of grape growing is that extremes of diurnal temperatures are a factor for quality. We would instead argue that what helps produce quality is balance, evenness, stability; not heat-spikes or cold-spikes and large day-to-day weather variations, especially in temperature.)
There was not a day until Sept 9 when the mercury touched 90. David’s granddaughter, Teagan July, was born July 22 in New York City when it was 109! That day it topped out at 81 at Hirsch. Morning fog and cold descended Aug 20-22, but otherwise the vines and ripening fruit (veraision came on Aug 11 – the latest date in Hirsch recorded history) basked in the glow of uninterrupted sunlight. The result was very advanced physiological ripening, far outdistancing sugar production. The berry skins were thick and crunchy; the seeds turned brown and hard; and there was lignification throughout all the woody structures and far along the rachises and peduncles of the clusters.
It stayed cool until Sept 19 with high afternoon humidity that held berry transpiration in check (thus holds the more volatile phenolics in the fruit for wine complexity and depth) and precluded the need for much pre-harvest irrigation. It hit 89 on the 19th and 20th of September, and the harvest began that day.
The harvest began with five days of warmish weather and low humidity so we picked at night to keep the fruit fresh and stable. It was clear that given the moderate, equable weather since July, the fruit from all our 60 farming blocks had reached maturation at about the same time and was ready for the picking shears. Unfortunately there was a shortage of harvest labor and this was aggravated toward the end of September when weather forecasts began to circulate that a large storm was heading toward us, and everyone wanted to pick.
We were starting work around midnight and finishing up in mid-morning. In order to get the crop in, we started earlier and earlier, finally at 7pm. We were working fourteen-hour days in order to pick pristine fruit and get ahead of the rain. By October 2 everything was in except two acres for one of our clients who decided to wait out the rains for more sugar ripening. And rain it did: +6” in a week.
As you see, it’s all about temperature. Nothing happens below 50 and above 95. At our latitude, 38 north, temperatures above 75 drive vegetative growth and sugar ripening (if the skies are clear) at the expense of ripening for flavor, aroma, depth, and tannin development. It’s in that sweet spot of 65 to 80 with good sunlight that the vine expresses its full development in the vintage, and by doing so, elaborates the potential of its site. This miracle occurred in 2011 and we look forward with heightened anticipation to the unfolding of the year and the place in the awakening and development of its wines.
THE 2011 WINES
In 2011 we produced the following wines at Hirsch Vineyards:
The Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir is an affordable world-class wine that brings to your glass the full spectrum of the Hirsch Vineyard and the True Sonoma Coast. Precociously charming and utterly quaffable, this wine is produced using the exact same winemaking methods and with the same attention to detail as with the other Hirsch pinots, thereby ensuring a wine of great quality, purity of fruit, and traditional varietal character. The 2011 Bohan Dillon is approximately one third Hirsch fruit, with the balance coming from our neighbors Hellenthal, MacDougal and Nobles. These vineyards are located a stones’ throw from Hirsch within the newly established Fort Ross – Seaview AVA.
1,012 cs produced, 13.2% alc, 3.48 pH
The 2011 vintage yielded a small crop in our chardonnay vines, but produced a wine of great concentration, intensity and purity. This may be our best vintage of chardonnay yet.
506 cs produced, 13.5% alc, 3.35 pH
The San Andreas Fault is our flagship pinot noir, and it is intended to represent the entirety of this complex site. This isthe wine that expresses the whole of the Hirsch Vineyard, in all its fragmentation and mutability. The 2011 San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir has fruit from 27 distinct farming blocks within Hirsch, more than any other wine made from the vineyard. The 2011 San Andreas is a seamless and utterly delicious wine, with a generous juiciness yet no hint of jamminess. Its structure and fruit concentration promise a long cellar life, but you will be hard pressed to resist its youthful charms. Produced in magnum, 750ml and 375ml formats.
3,091 cs produced, 13.4% alc, 3.47 pH
The West Ridge is a series of hilltop vineyard blocks, spread along the main ridge of Hirsch like vertebrae along a spine. The 2011 West Ridge Pinot Noir is a selection of the most exceptional barrels from three of the very best blocks on the West Ridge: Blocks 6E, 7 and 8A. The wine is entirely from heritage California clones: about half from the earthy and ethereal Mt Eden clone; half from the aromatic and floral Swan; and a dash of the sexy Pommard. It is aromatic and delicate, with very subtle tannins. By far the most feminine of our wines, it is driven by perfume and acidic energy.
195 cs produced, 12.8% alc, 3.42 pH
The East Ridge is a topographically distinct micro-site within the Hirsch Vineyard, on a north-facing ridge relatively sheltered from the influence of the Pacific. The 2011 East Ridge is selected from the heritage pinot noir clones of Mount Eden, Swan and Pommard, from the best blocks on the East Ridge: 4A-Swan, 4A-Mount Eden, 4B, 5C and 5W. The 2011 East Ridge is a masculine and powerful expression of the vineyard, with fantastic tannic structure and fruit concentration.
301 cs produced, 13.4% alc, 3.39 pH
Located on the western ridge of the Hirsch Vineyard, Block 8 has long seduced us with its power, complexity and singular personality. We finally succumbed to its charms, producing the first Block 8 Pinot Noir bottling in 2011. We selected four of the best barrels from Block 8 for this very limited production wine. Produced in magnum and 750ml formats. 100 cs produced, 13.7% alc, 3.42 pH
The 2011 Hirsch Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir is a selection of the best barrels from eleven of the oldest and finest vineyard blocks at Hirsch. It is a true reserve of very limited production. Produced in magnum and 750ml formats. 401 cs produced, 13.3% alc, 3.41 pH