Wine Spectator: 2012 California Pinot Noir Falls Short of Expectations

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chenoweth Clone Pinot Noir clusters at CIRQ Estate's Treehouse Vineyard
After challenging California Pinot Noir vintages in 2010 and 2011, there was hope that 2012 would be one of those vintages where every wine you taste exceeds expectations. But in my experience with 2012s over the past year I've been disappointed. There have been very few new exciting new discoveries and wines I've tried from favorite producers seem a notch below where they usually are.

Wine Spectator's latest issue covers the vintage (subscription required) and their take is that it was a vintage with high yields that led to many thin, tannic wines and uneven quality.

See: Free Alphabetic Listing of Wine Spectator's 2012 CA Pinot Ratings

Perfect weather. Imperfect results. How can that be?

Well, unless vineyard managers dropped fruit at the right times during the growing season clusters were too large, the grapes themselves were too large, and the grapes that remained on the vine were competing for scarce nutrients and the result was plump grapes that lacked concentration.

In talking with winemakers about green harvesting I'm told it's a dicey proposition. You don't want to do it too soon because you don't know how the last months of the growing season are going to shake out. And you don't want to do it too late because once verasion has completed it's ineffective.

Further, there's resistance to it throughout the production chain even with per-acre contracts in place. Nobody wants to take potentially viable fruit and toss it on the ground. But the best producers do and along with thousands of other decisions are able to deliver a product that meets or exceeds expectations.

For me the key thing the 2012s have lacked that the amazing 2009 vintage had was luscious vibrance. Too many of the 2012s just seem to be asleep whereas the 2009s jumped out of the glass and invited another sip. Time will tell whether the 2012s just need time to develop. For now, I'm going to let the remaining 2012s I have rest while exploring prior vintages.

Tasting Report: 25 2009 California Pinot Noirs

So 2010 had a massive heat spike right after many winemakers pruned leaves to help grapes ripen. 2011 had rains (in California!) during harvest season. And 2012 was perfect. But imperfect. You've gotta love it when things don't work out the way you thought they would.

It reminds me my stock picking acumen. Even after reading an earnings report I swear I guess wrong 90% of the time on the way the market is going to react to the news. With 2012 I thought it was time to go all in. Turns out we need to every bit as selective - if not more- than in 2010 and 2011.

2013 looks to be a bumper crop as well, and not necessarily in a good way. Beware of early hype and keep an eye on yields. It looks like it's going to be another vintage where selective purchases from trusted producers while seeking out a few new producers is the way to go for building a balanced cellar.

Photo Credit: John Corcoran

I'll be following up with a report of the 2012 California Pinot Noirs I've tasted along with a trip report to some amazing Sonoma Pinot Noir producers. I recently visited Kosta Browne at their new location in The Barlow, CIRQ Estate, and Radio-Coteau. I'd love it if you subscribed to the WWP for updates.

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