Could it really happen two vintages in a row?

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The headline for this week was a question posed by a winemaker we know in California at the beginning of September when he was lamenting that fruit from one of his most prized vineyard sources had not yet begun to turn from green to purple. After the disastrous vintage of 2010 and a very cool and wet spring of 2011, growers and winemakers from the Northwest and California went into the start of harvest hoping for a warm dry fall to get their grapes ripe.

It almost worked out that way. As we have discussed so many times there are hundreds of decisions that go into grape farming, harvest and winemaking every vintage, but the one uncontrollable factor year after year is weather. The coming week has all involved in the process of creating wine on edge, and it should be bothering consumers some too.

In a discussion with one of our favorite growers from California we learned that Sonoma and Napa counties are expecting up to 2 inches of rain next week. The backdrop for this grower is that 60 percent of his 1,000 acres of grapes are still on the vine and his winery buyers are all clamoring for their fruit to be harvested prior to the rains.

Another source in Northern California said that weather forecasters are warning to expect "near winter-like conditions." Meanwhile here in North Idaho the forecast is loaded with cool temperatures and the first heavy rains of the season, which are likely to hit the wine grape growing regions of Washington and Southern Idaho as well.

After a tough start to the growing year due to cool temperatures and rainy conditions, and the early freeze in the fall of 2010 the Washington grape crop was already predicted to be down more than 15 percent, but now we may be looking at poor quality also if the weather forecast holds.

The problems created by early and cool rains include bunch rot, mold and other conditions that render the grapes unusable for wine production. It also stops ripening, leading to depressed sugar levels in the grapes and unbalanced conditions between sugars and acids. There is hope still for the vintage if the rainy period predicted for next week is quickly followed by warmer and more importantly dry and low humidity conditions. We hope that is the result but as our friend Cliff Harris says "all we can do is wait and see."

So the bigger question for consumers "What to do about all of this?" As far as the upcoming 2011 vintage stay tuned. As we have consistently recommended with the 2010 vintage, try before you buy or base your purchases on the advice of your trusted wine professional who has tasted the wines you are purchasing.

That is the bad news, now for the good news. We are still seeing domestic wines released from the 2006 through the 2009 vintages, and there is one Washington winery Kiona that is only on its 2003 red wines, so there is quite a lot of wine out there. As we have discussed too, many of these vintages rate from very good to some of the best ever. Here is our grading of some recent vintages. We are grading broadly by state so keep in mind that there are always exceptions and your likes and dislikes are best determined by you.

Vintage State Grade

2005 California B

2006 California B+

2007 California A+

Oregon B

Oregon B+

Oregon C-

Washington A

Washington B

Washington A+

Idaho A

Idaho B

Idaho A+

2008 California A

2009 California B

Oregon A+

Oregon A

Washington A

Washington B

Idaho A

Idaho B

In addition to these past years having produced some very good wines we are seeing stable to slightly declining prices for most bottles. With the ageability of most of the red varietals and some whites from the appellations here in the states we recommend buying wines you are fond of in size to carry you through what may be a couple of very lean and mediocre years when the 2010 and 2011 wines are released.

Also too, don't forget some of the international entries. We have tried wines from Europe as well as new world appellations specifically South America that are very good, including some 2010 whites from Chile and Argentina. The wines from France, Italy and Spain typically are aged a little longer prior to release so we have yet to see any from 2010, however the continent had far better growing conditions in 2010 than did the states.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d'Alene Press.

George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party - a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d'Alene by Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo, and writes frequently for the online version of Coeur d'Alene Magazine at www.cdamagazine.com. His articles can also be found on the blog at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com.

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