The 2010 Vintage
The weather on the Sonoma Coast in 2010 was unprecedented. Every year at Hirsch Vineyards is different in degree of climatic factors: (very) wet, cold, hot, foggy, humid, windy; and how these phenomena play together. But 2010 was a creature unto itself, not comparable to other years in our experience.
It began with very heavy rains: 12” with thunder and lightning plus heavy winds from January 17 to 23. It ended the same way with 14” from December 17 to 30. Total rainfall was over 100” during the calendar year. But heavy rainfall is customary here in the redwood rain forest – what distinguished 2010 were the unrelenting dark periods of cool weather during the summer, with overcast skies, fog and wind.
A wet winter and a late spring
The winter was wet and windy with moderate temps. The spring was remarkably cold from the end of March well into May. Bud break came on March 25 with some frost in the vineyards that week. March 31 epitomized the spring: a high of 45 (at noon), low of 32 (at 3pm) with sun, clouds, rain, snow, sleet and some fog. Just another day of farming on the True Sonoma Coast!
We saw a lot of rain in April with only five warm days. Vine growth was minimal and this continued into the cool and windy May. It warmed in June with the first day in the 80’s on June 12. Bloom was widespread by June 17, the latest ever in our memory. From then on the vines took off in response to the heavy moisture in the soil. The seeds were set on June 30. This was the shortest bloomtime in memory and more consistent with a continental experience than a maritime one.
A cold summer
The crop looked good, probably due to the warmth and sunlight in the late spring and early summer of 2009, which helped to promote strong development of the latent buds that augur the following year’s crop. Unfortunately, the cold, clouds and fog, the biting winds, and intermittent moisture that held sway in the spring of 2010 caused the crop to set very unevenly and produced the differentiation in berry size called millerandage by the French, who have some experience with this style of weather. Here in balmy, unsophisticated California, we say “hens and chicks.” However you call it, it signifies unevenness of set and berry development. This occurs regularly, but not to the degree of 2010. And for farming in the pursuit of balance, it’s a nightmare.
July 15 was the first warm day in a spell without overcast and fog. There was a brief warm spell from July 14 to 19 that rocketed shoot growth into rampant profusion. Then the morning fog returned, but the vegetative growth continued given the deep soil moisture and warming soils. We sharpened the machetes and commenced to hack back the vegetation. By the start of August, we had the vine canopy more or less under control, but were concerned about the 2011 crop due to lack of heat and light on the renewals (an intimation that would be realized in the following year’s low yields.) Then it was time to hedge the long shoots and open the fruit zone for green harvest and to prevent mold and rot, or at least, to inhibit epidemic conditions.
The berries started to turn color on August 9. Again, veraision was very irregular across the fields and we envisioned a tricky and sustained harvest in order to pick each block at optimal fruit conditions. But first we were faced with thinning the very uneven maturing fruit in order to achieve some modicum of balance for even ripening. This became near impossible due to the extreme soil moisture. The redwood rain forest at Hirsch is a desert in the summer. This is one of the most important factors in the site’s ability to grow premium pinot noir and chardonnay. The hormone ABA (abscisic acid) promotes ripening and stops vegetative growth, but is produced in the roots only when the root zone dries out to a moderate, slightly stressed level. This is the key to fully ripe fruit with balance of alcohol and acid complexity: aromas, flavors, fruit acids, and tannic structure. 2010 was the contrary model of below ground environment for superior quality.
Needless to say, our crew worked like mad to cull bunches and berries that were over- and under-ripe. But the variation was so great that finally, remembering the saying of the Buddha, “the only perfection knowable in this world is the average of the trillions of imperfections,” we put away our thinning shears and awaited the bell for the first round of the harvest. Of course, it rained almost an inch two days before it began.
Working with our new winemaker, Ross Cobb, we designed a strategy to focus on the physiological maturation of the fruit, and not on the degree of sugar development. When the pick began on September 21, some of the field test results had the sugar at 21.5 degrees of brix or lower, which indicates final alcohol of 12.5% or below. For the first five days we picked in balmy weather. Then it shot up into the high 80’s and 90’s. (We pick at night to take advantage of the cool temps to protect the fruit, but one night at 2am during this heat wave the gauge read 82 degrees!) The remaining fruit got ripe all at once and we rushed to pick.
Over the first four cool days we picked 28 tons for the winery; then in the six days of the heat, our valiant crew picked 82 tons. When it cooled down again the sugar ripening slowed and the balance of the harvest dragged on until October 12 when 12-2B, our 2002 chardonnay block, finally got ready and gave over its 2.35 tons of fruit “of many colors” – tiny to large berries; green to plum colored skins; bunches with four berries to fruits with 400, tiny, tight packed bunches and large, gangly open bunches. You name it, 2010 like a protean cup of life produced it.
And the wines? After recovering from vintage shock, we were amazed to find young wines with balance, depth, and a unique expression of the site, a reflection of their father, the vintage of 2010: deep, brooding, faceted, puzzling and surprising in their complexity and manifestation. Why so good in such a trying year? Maybe the cool temps and long hang time; maybe the relentless work to bring light and air movement to the canopy, then the long hours to cull the fruit at the extremes of evenness, and the 18 hour days to pick everything at its freshest expression; maybe the attention to each lot by Ross and his winery crew to treat each as an individual child of the site and year; or maybe it’s the depth, the power, the complexity of the site: its soils, geology, topography, ecology, that was able to welcome the foreign visitor, the 2010 weather, and receive him fully without loosing her innate character and expression.
THE 2010 WINES
In 2010 we produced the following wines at Hirsch Vineyards:
The 2010 Bohan Dillon will not disappoint the avid Bohan fan. Lithe, bright and totally Hirsch, the 2010 faithfully continues the tradition of the precociously charming, utterly quaffable Bohan Pinot Noir. For those of you seeking a balanced, aromatic and finessed expression of California pinot noir, and all at a very reasonable price, this is the wine for you.
1,178 cs produced, 13.1% alc, 3.51 pH
The 2010 vintage yielded a very small crop in our Chardonnay vines, but produced a wine of astounding power and concentration held in check by delicacy and restrained ripeness.
280 cs produced, 13.6% alc, 3.38 pH
The San Andreas Fault is Hirsch Vineyards’ signature pinot noir and is crafted to represent the entirety of this complex vineyard. The 2010 San Andreas Fault has fruit from 30 distinct farming blocks within Hirsch Vineyards, thereby capturing a complete expression of Hirsch. Available in magnum and 750ml formats.
3,265 cs produced, 13.0% alc, 3.57 pH
The West Ridge is a series of hilltop vineyard blocks, spread along the main ridge of Hirsch like vertebrae along a spine. Altogether the West Ridge covers 28 acres and is divided into 27 farming blocks. The 2010 West Ridge Pinot Noir is a selection of the most exceptional barrels from three of the very best blocks on West Ridge, Blocks 6E, 7 and 8A-1. These are planted to the heritage pinot noir clones of Mount Eden, Swan and Pommard.
165 cs producded, 12.8% alc, 3.60 pH
The East Ridge is a topographically distinct micro-site within Hirsch Vineyards, comprising an area of 18 acres and 16 farming blocks. With a steep northern exposure, it is planted to the heritage pinot noir clones of Mount Eden, Swan and Pommard, with a smattering of the Dijon clone 114. The 2010 East Ridge Pinot Noir is a selection of the very best barrels from our three oldest blocks within the East Ridge: Blocks 4A, 4B and 5.
240 cs produced, 13.0% alc, 3.55 pH
The 2010 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.
277 cs of 750s produced, 20cs of magnums produced; 13.1% alc; 3.54 pH