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Uncorked: 2012 could be special vintage

California winemakers have taken the Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and made them shine. Harvest reports from grower producers in both the northern and southern regions suggest 2012 could be a special vintage. 

Also, mark your calendar for a pair of must-attend November wine events.  

Winemaker spotlight

Sonoma Coast/Russian River Valley

Scientific analysis provided Paul Sloan with a road map for harvest. 

But the grower producer of Small Vines used his gut feeling as an experienced winemaker to set a final date. 

“Science got me in the ballpark,” Sloan said. “When we got to 22.5 Brix, I put the tools away and used my intuition.”

Combined with perfect weather, Sloan has a bumper crop with which to work. In 2011, Sloan had just one ton of Pinot Noir; so place your orders when you can. The 2012 vintage was six tons, even after fruit was dropped shortly after set to ensure there would be solid yields. 

“It was a great year,” Sloan said. “The weather was mild and nice. It was a beautiful summer and easy growing season.

For the first time since 2007, Small Vines will feature a Chardonnay with fruit from its estate property. Sloan harvested at 22.5 Brix and expects the young fruit to produce a Chard with minerality and 13 percent alcohol. It will be lean, terrior driven and the result of years of hard work.   

“We put so much work into it,” said Sloan about the Chardonnay vineyard. “When you’ve invested so much time into a project and to have it all come back is very rewarding.”

Santa Barbara County

The weather in Santa Barbara must be a winemaker’s dream. 

It seems like everyday my iPhone weather app returns the same forecast: 70s and sunny. 

While Rick Longoria, the dean of winemakers in the area, has been tested during his long and distinguished career by a challenging vintage, 2012 won’t go down in history as one of them. 

Longoria harvested Pinot Noir from Fe Ciega, his estate vineyard for his eponymous label, Sept. 7 through 14. 

“Quality is excellent,” Longoria said. “The wines are showing really beautiful balance and precocious flavors already. We picked before a short heat wave so our average sugar levels were all below 24 Brix.”

With Chardonnay harvested at 22.5 Brix, Longoria expects a wine with high acidity, from the kind of vintage that featured the rare combination of quantity and quality. 

“Overall it’s a very well-balanced vintage,” Longoria said. “Most growers are experiencing above average crop yields, but quality is also above average. It’s been a great, easy vintage with hardly any challenges so far.” 

Where to go 

Mainstreeet Wines 2012 Wine and Food Fall Gala: 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 11 at the William Tell Holiday Inn, 6201 W. Joliet Road, Countryside. Cost is $10 for members, $30 for non-members.

Hitching Post winemaker Gray Hartley will host a wine seminar during the event. Cost is $20 for the seminar. A V.I.P. tasting for members costs an extra $25, is limited to 100 people and grants 90 minutes of pre-tasting access.

There is a 15 percent discount on wines purchased at the tasting. For more information, visit

28th annual Nouveau Wine Weekend: Nov. 16 and 17 at Galena Cellars, 4746 N. Ford Road, Galena.

A horse-drawn delivery of the first wine from the 2012 vintage provides plenty of old-school country charm. A litany of wine tastings and winemaker dinners are scheduled. For more information, visit

Wine 101

The vagaries of Mother Nature can send farmers scrambling. A late-season heat spike, which some parts of California experienced this year, can send sugars soaring. Conversely a sudden rain storm can cause fruit to lose the intensity it developed all summer. 

A weather report is a guide and luck is an asset when it comes to harvest.   

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at

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