By Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief
The 2009 harvest drew to a close at Shinn Estate Vineyards on Wednesday, ending what was surely the wildest, wackiest -- and longest -- growing season the winery has experienced on the North Fork. Wildest and wackiest because of the the cool, cloudy, wet start. Longest because they finished up a full 12 days later than they ever have before.
A look at the final numbers might make you think that it was just another year on Oregon Road:
- Cabernet franc: 24-25 brix and 2.1 tons per acre
- Cabernet sauvignon: 23.2 brix and 1.5 tons per acre
- Malbec: 23 brix and 1.8 tons per acre
- Merlot: 23-24 brix and 2.5 tons per acre
- Petite verdot: 23 brix and 1.7 tons per acre
Don't let the numbers fool you though, this was anything but typical.
Aided by a long, extended ripening season, co-owner and vineyard manager Barbara Shinn worked hard to get the grapes that ripe, telling me that they "Pulled out every trick in the book this year in regards to our vineyard practices. For a start, we dropped fruit three times finishing with an average of 12 to 13 clusters per vine. Some of our vines set as many as 28 clusters per vine so dropping that much fruit was remarkable. Secondly, increasing photosynthesis through the use of horn silica once a month aided in sugar development. We also completed a three-year study of manipulating cabernet sauvignon clusters in cooler years. We began the study in 2004, again in 2006, and then committed our whole block of cabernet sauvignon to this very special treatment this year with good results."
That treatment, known as girding or crimping, involves crimping the stem just above the cluster. Doing so reduces water uptake, helping to concentrate sugars.
Shinn also credits a diverse compost program for keeping her vines healthy throughout the season, saying "Using various composts also gave the vines a slow feed of whatever nutrients they may have needed throughout the many times of stress. We use green compost, horn compost, worm compost, wood and leaf compost, and vine/horse manure compost, all applied at different times."
So it was a combination of Mother Nature (hard frost not hitting until last week) and vineyard practices that enabled Shinn Estate to harvest grapes at such high brix in such a cool year. But, making good wine it's not just about harvesting grapes that are high in sugar.
Balance is what matters. Or as co-owner David Page says "It (brix) does matter, but maybe not as much as some would assume. Let's just say that without sugar there is no alcohol. So the question is how much alcohol is enough? You will get wildly varying opinions on that. Low alcohol wines can be 'thin' or they can be 'elegant.' High-alcohol wines can be 'hot' or 'powerful.' Finding balance in our wine is the key, so for us that means riper fruit than what Long Island has produced in the past, but never as ripe as California bombs -- although I have to say we approached that in the great 2007 vintage. Our 2009s are riper than any previous vintage other than 2007. They very well may end up as the most balanced wines we have produced."