At Monte Bello, a cold, drawn-out winter brought heavy, groundsaturating rains. Budbreak was delayed a month—pushed back to late April at the 2700′ level. Persistent rain and cold weather through June delayed fruit set to early July. Fortunately the rain let up, and for most of summer, our elevation kept the vines above the fog. There were, however, more than the usual number of days when fog and cold crept up and over the ridge. All signs pointed to this being one of the latest Monte Bello harvests in Ridge history.
Careful adjustment of yields can make or break a vintage. Given the cold season, and weather volatility over the past five years, we thinned even before the fruit had changed from green to red (veraison). To improve odds of ripening the crop before any rain, we dropped 45% of the young cabernet and merlot, and 20 to 25% on everything else. Unexpectedly, the weather warmed in September, only to cool again in early October. Miraculously, heat returned in the last half of October. Harvest at Monte Bello began with chardonnay, picked from September 26 to October 19, and continued with merlot (October 3 – 28) and cabernet sauvignon (October 15 – November 5). From the start, petit verdot was the farthest behind. We had thinned half the crop after veraison, and installed reflective material below the vines on alternating rows to enhance photosynthesis. The grapes responded, ripening far more quickly than expected. Picked on October 15, they were the ripest of all the blocks.
The forty vineyard parcels were subdivided into forty-nine separate fermentations. Roughly half were from parcels designated Monte Bello, half from those designated Estate. All but a handful were sorted at the crush station. The sorting machinery, installed for the 2009 vintage, had a new component—another conveying table. This gave us a chance to do one last sort before pumping to the fermentors. Natural yeasts were healthy, and quick to start. Color and tannin were abundant, extracting rapidly. For most tanks, pump-overs were scaled back. Toward the end of fermentation, based on taste, we performed a final pump-over to fill out body, then racked and pressed. Most of the press wine was too tannic to blend immediately into the free run. These press fractions were pumped to individual barrels. Later—again determined by tasting— we may include some of the most balanced press wine.
At this time, the various lots have been put to barrel and are finishing malolactic. The incredible flavors we noticed in the fermentors have developed further. Depth of structure and complexity are unlike any past vintage. Despite the temperamental year, we couldn’t have asked for anything finer than what nature finally gave us. It was an exhausting few months for us all, but the vines have produced a truly magnificent vintage.
– Eric Baugher (January, 2011)
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