California 2009-2010

Even in California, what a difference a year makes.

While Left Coast weather is much less capricious than Europe’s, and wine science further lessens grape growing gyrations, there still is a difference between a really good year in California and a really bad one.

Such years appear to have come back-to-back in the state that provides 89 percent of wine made in the United States.

Some experts believe 2009 will be a vintage to rival 2007, proclaimed a vintage of the decade. In the world of wine hype, vintages of the decade happen several times a decade. Alas, same authorities warn 2010 vintage veers the opposite direction.

Here’s dismal 2010 story: First, grape glut gutted prices—down 70% from highs of a few years ago. Then an unusually foggy summer encouraged mold. Then fall turned horrifyingly hot, sending grapes galloping toward raisin status. Finally, rain fell during harvest in October.

That’s a checklist of all the worst things that can happen in a vineyard. The Napa/Sonoma harvest is expected to be down 20 percent, lowest in a decade.

When asked if there was a silver lining, one grower gave an answer worthy of a West Texas dryland cotton farmer: “Well, at least the season is almost over.”

Let’s not dwell on 2010’s calamity. Many believe 2009 is a premium year with attractive pricing. That in mind, suggestions for stocking up on 2009 goods before 2010 bads and uglies cometh.


• Michael Sullberg Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009. Solid Cab, sensational price. $10

• Sterling Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2009. Figs and citrus, nice value. $15

• Educated Guess 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Blackberries, cherries, mint hint. $22

• Cenay Rogers Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009. Bright florals, minerality. $29

• Rombauer Chardonnay Carneros 2009. Buttery, fruit-forward, apples, pears. $39