Just Right


Have you ever noticed how easy it is to remember and retell a classic story?  I was reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears to my 3 year-old son, Julian, and realized that I didn’t even have to read the text of the book.  I could just tell him the story because the story I remembered was exactly the same as the one written on the pages of the book—it is a perfectly constructed tale and in the retelling, nothing had changed.  So memorable is this classic tale of the blond intruder and the ursine family that one morning 6 months later I employed it as a “teachable moment” when my tyke was trying to have his breakfast of hot cereal and he was wailing because it was too hot to eat.  I attempted to convince him to be patient by asking him, “Remember the story of the 3 Bears and how the porridge was too hot?  So what did they do?  The three bears went for a walk in the woods to wait for the porridge to cool down, remember?”  So with this thought in mind he stopped crying and commenced to recount the whole story for me complete with the “too hot” and the “too cold” and the sing-song proclamation of, “juuuust riiiight!”  Then he finished off the story right down to the final exclamation, “And someone’s been sleeping in my bed and here she is!”  Thankfully, by the time he finished telling the story the cereal had cooled down enough to eat. (Phew, dodged that melt-down bullet!)  I was surprised at his remembering the whole story. When I thought about how the story keeps repeating the phrase about things being, “Just right,” I remembered that in ancient Greece, story-tellers used this same device when relating their 3-day long tales of yore to help them catalogue the important chapters in their sagas.

So, if I were to don a toga and recount the vintage of 2009 as a fairy tale, it would go a little something like this: Once upon a time there was a winemaker called Shorty-locks and a grapegrower called Sparsely-locks who farmed grapes and made wine in the Kingdom of Sonoma Coastlandia.  Farming grapes in this unforgiving land was difficult as the Wicked Frost of the Northwest and the Mean Rains of Floweringtime often visited the land and stole the grapes away from the hardworking yet unfortunate farmers even before the grapes had a chance to grow.  But the farmers, even though they moaned and gnashed their teeth about the misfortune of losing their grapes, always tried their best and were pleased with how lovely the wines were.  Then, one spring day in 2009, the Fairy Good-Vintage Mother came and declared that this year the farmers would have good growing conditions and waved her wand over the sleeping Pinot noir vines.

Well, how did the vintage of 2009 go?  Did the wand waving do any good? The bud break of 2009 commenced around  March 24.  Although bud break was not too early, there was still a little late spring frost at the end of April/early May that affected a few vines in the lower lying swales of the vineyard.  The damage, however, was miniscule compared to that of the spring frost of 2008, thankfully.  A dry, mild and, at times, even warm April was very favorable for strong shoot growth.  A touch of rain at the beginning of May (3.6”) followed by a rainless and fair period carried the favorable conditions right on through for a successful flowering and subsequent pollenization.  A gloriously sunny and warm but not hot summer allowed steady growth and an evenly paced maturation. The timing of the phenological stages and the temperature and weather conditions during those critical points was perfect.  In short, a season that was not too cold, not too hot, but:  Just right.

Since we had fairly ideal conditions for bud growth and for flowering, we finally got decent cluster development and good berry set that resulted in a satisfactory number of not too large, but decently sized and filled out Pinot noir clusters.   In other words: not too much fruit, not too little, but: Just right.

So with the crop load in balance with the vine growth and the timing of its development, and the cluster size and berry size being not too big nor too meager, the resulting flavors and fruit expression was therefore not too forward and out-sized nor too faint or mute.  The balance was also expressed in the structure of the wine:  the tannins were not too structured yet not too underdeveloped.  Yes, you got it:  Just right.

It would be funny to imagine Goldilocks sitting at the Bears’ kitchen table having eaten all of the baby bear’s porridge swirling and sipping through three glasses of wine:  “Too big!  Too soft!  Ahhh, just right!”  (Of course, baby Bear would only get an occasional sniff or two).

In 2009, we had the conditions for the opposite of a “perfect storm”:  everything fell into place for a perfect vintage.  And with all the elements being “Just right” the stage was set for the making of classic and memorable wines.  And so the story goes:  there was much feasting and rejoicing with wine and they lived happily ever after!

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