The 2009 vintage in California had a mix of weather conditions that kept growers busy all year long, but in the end resulted in an average-sized crop of very good wines. Ripe, rich, and full, rounder and more supple in their tannins than the 2008 and a notch under 2007 — but the best are excellent.
A slow start to the year was mitigated by good conditions through the summer; a couple of hot spells in August and September allowed the grapes to catch up.
The harvest started just ahead of normal, and things looked great until the 13th of October, when almost 4 inches of rain fell in a day. Fortunately, the rain was predicted well in advance, and many growers accelerated picking and were able to bring in much of the crop before the rain, especially Pinot Noir and other earlier-ripening grapes. The weather after the rain would be critical, as the risk of rot and dilution of flavors became a major concern for grapes not brought in before the rain. In most regions the weather improved and dried up the vineyards, extending hang-time into late October, and the majority of growers reported post-rain fruit coming in healthy and in good shape.
More than 13 inches of rain falls, enough to replenish depleted aquifers but not to undo the larger effects of the ongoing drought
Bud break during mid-month
Flowering during mid-month
Harvest for Sauvignon Blanc begins during first week, Merlot and Chardonnay during third week, Cabernet at month’s end
Harvest winds down towards month’s end; a total of 5.5 inches of rain falls throughout
Veraison early in the month
Almost 4 inches of rain falls; many accelerated harvest to get fruit in before the rain. Harvest pauses to wait for grapes to rebalance and dry out
Before he died in 2009, after a long battle with cancer, Jim Richards was known as a down to earth, call-it-like-you-see-it type guy. While living in Texas, he and his wife, Barbara, had caught the wine bug and decided to move to Napa Valley to follow their dreams. In 1983 they bought a choice, 20-acre property at the top of Spring Mountain, and planted 15 acres with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. What followed were some of the best Merlots California had to offer. Although Jim has since passed, the Richards still have a rabid following among those who prize sweetness of fruit, creamy texture and plenty of spicy oak. Sheldon, Jim's son, now works alongside his mom in the vines and in the cellar, carrying on the work, and good reputation of his dad's vineyard.
Medium to full-bodied wines with flavors of black cherry, plum, and tobacco
Roasts, hamburgers, other grilled meats
Merlot enjoyed a surge in popularity in the 1990s as consumers suddenly discovered that they could enjoy aromas and flavors similar to those of Cabernet in a fleshier, softer wine with smoother tannins. A wave of Merlot plantings followed, frequently in soils and microclimates completely inappropriate for this variety, and the market was soon flooded with dilute bottles from young vines and high crop levels, and weedy, herbaceous examples from underripe fruit. Many of these undernourished wines were overoaked in attempts to mask their deficiencies. Over the same period, a number of Cabernet producers began picking riper fruit and doing a better job managing their tannings during the making and aging of their wines. The result was an upswing of powerful, satisfying Cabernets that were far less austere in their youth -- and a sharp decline in interest in Merlot.
Still, California's best Merlots, some of which predated the vogue for this variety in the 1990s, continue to be some of the finest examples of this variety outside Bordeaux -- in the same quality league with wines from Washington State and Italy's Tuscan coast region. Expect to find broad, supple wines with medium to full body, typically with aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum, dark berries, dark chocolate, tobacco, and earth, and suave, fine-grained tannins. Merlot also rules in Pomerol, and nowhere in the world does this variety make more complete wines than on the flat, clay-rich plateau that lies at the heart of this appellation.