2010 Wine Harvest Update – Do sorting tables help?

Speaking of fantasies, congratulations San Francisco Giants.

Stark Insider Food and Wine

Those quiet nights you can now enjoy — not a creature or auger stirring — across Napa, Sonoma, Livermore and other west coast wine regions can only mean one thing: Harvest is but a done deal. The only question remaining is what to make of this tricky 2010 vintage. That we won’t know for a while, until the wine finishes aging in barrels twelve, eighteen, twenty-four months from now.

From what I’ve gleaned talking with winemakers, reading harvest reports and witnessing the unpredictable Northern California weather first hand, it’s going to be interesting to say the least.

In a sobering update, Ross Halleck recently wrote, “Unfortunately, 2010 will not be fulfilling our best wishes.”

Mount Veeder vineyards pre-harvest
Mount Veeder vineyards pre-harvest

At this time of year I continue to look for morsels of information about the harvest and revealing tid-bits from those that walk the vineyards day in, day out. Why, I have no idea. It’s like armchair quarterbacking. It allows me to sit back, second guess everyone, pretend I know what I’m talking about, and then when all else fails blame the grapes.

Which brings me to Monty Preiser.

As far as I know he and his wife Sara don’t run a vineyard (although I could be wrong about that…), but they do run the well regarded Preiser Key to Napa Valley, one of the most widely read wine digests/tourist guides you can find across tasting rooms up and down Highway 29.

Monty is a guy in the know and on a mission. He’s also affable and immediately likable as I discovered on a recent sojourn up to Mount Veeder on a tasting that included Cabs and Meritage Blends (A Magnificat view from Mount Veeder).

In his latest column, he briefly discusses 2010 harvest, and then raises a somewhat intriguing question regarding sorting tables. Yes, I’m not talking here about iPad, Android or the Canon T2i — I mean tables, as in with four legs. You don’t plug them in. You don’t enter data into them like a database table. No, these tables are for good old-fashioned grape sorting, despite the fact that Monty refers to them as “devices.”

But first, the Preiser’s take on the vintage:

“[It] should be an excellent vintage for the consumers (who are concerned mostly with quality), if a bit small in size for the producer (tonnage was a bit down due to the necessity of dropping a great deal of damaged fruit so that what remained received the best nutrients and, ultimately, exhibited the most flavor).”

Typically if supply is down, simple economics suggests higher prices. Given the continually uncooperative economy that may not be the case with ’10 wines. In fact, consumers will likely benefit from price wars, and discounting, especially at the premium level. Sadly, the wineries are likely to suffer in this scenario. It’s too early to tell exactly the outcome of course, as these bottles won’t hit the market for some time, but I can see why many are more than a little concerned.

Now, about those sorting tables. In previous years, the consensus according to Monty was mixed. But this year, a different take:

“…everyone wished they had [a sorting table] due to the uneven nature of so many grape clusters. While most winemakers would not go on record, a majority agreed with our thought that it might be well worth the time to identify those wineries that removed the damaged parts of the cluster at the winery on the sorting tables, as their 2010 vintage may well have an edge.”

What I like about hand sorting and sorting tables is the human touch. It’s nice to know that in this day-and-age of wine vending machines, streaming 1080p video, and self-cleaning restrooms that some things remain sacrosanct.

Remember Chrysler pitchman and steward of Fantasy Island, Ricardo Montalban extolling the virtues of “Fine Corinthian Leather”? OhhhhhAhhhhhh. That might just be the sorting table; hand-crafted love, and a welcome respite from all things outsourced.

Speaking of fantasies, congratulations San Francisco Giants.

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