2011 Alexander Valley Cabernet Blending Story

The 2011 vintage was challenging in Alexander Valley, as it was for all Northern California winemakers. As a winemaker, these are the kinds of vintages that push us to think creatively and make wines that truly show the mastery of our craft.

In January 2012, as our Associate Winemaker, Christiane Schleussner and I prepared to present our proposed blend to our President and CEO, David Duncan, we were a little nervous. First of all, there is always a plan, an anticipated case quantity. The plan is based on producing acreage, crop estimates for each vintage and historical performance of vineyards. And we have a clear understanding: the Director of Winemaking has the final say as to what goes in the blend. Nevertheless, we work from a place of mutual respect, admiration and consensus. All that being said, to propose a blend that is about 60% of plan seemed like it might be a hard sell. To illustrate our choices, we also made up a blend that would take us to full capacity.

We should have known not to worry. David took one taste of the two wines and said, “There’s not even a question – make the best wine for the vintage, make the wine that says ‘Silver Oak.’”

2011, like 2010, was a cool year. What set 2011 apart was that it was also wet. We had plenty of winter rainfall, and it extended into spring.

This made the crop small and potentially uneven. The summer was cool, but fortunately the two heat spells in September went a long way to ripening the Cabernet Sauvignon. In early October, we had four days in a row of rain and this stopped the ripening of Cabernet in its tracks. We did not resume harvest until 10 days later. Green dropping fruit in August had helped to even out maturity, and severe selection in the winery enabled us to make a compelling, full-bodied wine, but quantity was sacrificed.

Ultimately, a winery is measured not by the wines it makes in the easy vintages but by the wines it makes in a vintage that throws us a few curveballs. We are extremely proud of our 2011 Alexander Valley. I think you’ll agree that we have succeeded in producing an extraordinary wine in a difficult vintage.

-Daniel Baron