January 24, 2022
After what can only be described as the hellish vintage of 2020 (fire and brimstone and pestilence—the only thing missing was toilet paper), 2021 was a splendid year. As for 2020, it must be said that the wines are amazing despite the insanity of the year. It’s a testament to the courage and professionalism of the cellar workers, the harvest crew, and everyone else on the winemaking team that the wines of 2020 are a triumph. Let’s face it, winemaking in a mask is a little like dealing cards wearing oven mitts. It wasn’t a vintage they train you for at UC Davis.
When we talk about vintages, we’re talking about weather. So, yeah, kinda dull. Like your worst Bumble date ever, which is saying something. Yet it’s what makes wine unique among the world’s alcohol delivery systems. No one talks about what a great year it was for Corona or Amstel Light, both loosely defined as beers. Likewise, you don’t go into your favorite bar and order a martini from your birth year. “’85 was a great year for gin, but the vermouth really struggled with mildew.” Among all the beverages that alter your state of mind, it’s only wine that isn’t replicable. We can never again make the 2016 Symmetry. They can make Budweiser taste the same for as long as beechwood rules the Earth.
Climate is the most important factor in growing fine wine grapes. Sonoma County is blessed with one of the greatest climates for winegrowing anywhere on the planet. But, obviously, the weather is different every year, and that’s what determines the quality of the fruit, which then dictates the quality of the wine.
Sonoma County, like all of California, is mired in a drought. How does this affect the wine? The 2021 vintage got off to an early start, which is attributable to drought conditions (plants begin to wake up from their winter slumber when the ground begins to warm, which happens sooner when the ground is dry and the sun is out more often). Many varieties, notably Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, produced fewer clusters, again a result of the drought. But the weather during the growing season was spectacular. There were no prolonged heat events or any other weather-related challenges. A lighter crop led to earlier maturity in warmer regions like Alexander Valley, while cooler regions developed at a more normal pace, so harvest was compressed into a shorter time than usual (which didn’t affect quality especially but is just interesting to note).
In brief, for those of you keeping score, 2021 was a great vintage, with lower than average yields attributable to the drought conditions, and without the smoke that has adversely affected grapes in several recent vintages. The fruit is intense, highly aromatic, and should produce exciting and sought-after wines. Make room in the cellar.