Sonoma Valley AVA | Sonoma Valley was granted its AVA in 1982.
2003 Sonoma Valley | Mike Benziger says ‘the 2003 vintage defies description and easy labeling. Unusual cold spells and hard heat spikes during critical parts of the growing season were challenging for grape growers. Favorable weather conditions and a small crop towards the end of the season made for a relatively smooth harvest. Due to the extraordinary swings in weather, quality will vary. The berries were small this year, which typically correlates with good quality. Mild weather late in the growing season and the complete absence of rain gave our grapes additional hang time needed to achieve ripeness. Mother nature did us a favor in giving us a light crop, but she sure didn’t make it easy. Was it perfect? No, but it ended better than anyone could have imagined.’
2004 Sonoma Valley | Mike Benziger says 2004 was ‘early, and fast. This year we started on August 11th, last year it was September 14th. This year, we had bud break at least a week early. That was followed by an extremely warm spring which pushed the grapes far ahead in their development. The summer was perfect – moderate temperatures with no damaging heat spikes. These conditions were optimum for high grape quality. Leafy canopies stayed green and healthy because there was no heavy heat, optimizing the vines’ ability to use sunlight to power ripening. Take all these conditions into consideration and factor in a smaller crop and we have early and excellent quality.’
2005 Sonoma Valley | Mike Benziger says ‘2005 was unpredictable, and challenging, from the start. The spring of 2005 was the wettest in years. In fact, May had more rain than any other May in 113 years. This is good, because the last three years of drought have stressed the vines, especially late in the year around harvest. Our key job at this point is disease prevention and then to absorb and balance out the radical growth spurred on by all this moisture so that it won’t affect wine quality. One of the biggest challenges this year has been keeping up with the workload in the vineyard. Every grower has been playing catch up. The wet weather has compressed the growing season and the time we can work in the vineyards. Vine growth has been spectacular and it seems like we have to do everything two or three times as everything keeps growing. The amount of extra time we spent adjusting and readjusting canopies and mowing and re-mowing vineyard rows, cost us about 20% more than normal. One of the most challenging and expensive growing seasons in 20 years. Harvest began on 2 September. Moving into harvest, just one rain could have knocked us out cold, but then a miracle! 30 plus days of perfect Indian summer. We ended up getting the grapes just the way we wanted them. The last grapes were picked on November 11, the latest ever for us in Sonoma. The last press load was December 1st and by this time, we were sick of harvest. This was also one of those very rare harvests where we got it both ways—exceptional quality and excellent yields. The amount of grapes harvested caught us off guard in the beginning. Even though the number of clusters on each vine was not unusual, their weight was. Unknown to us, the grapes continued to gain weight late in the year. This was very hard to observe so when the first loads started to come in 20, 30, 35% over forecast, we were caught off guard. Immediately, we had concerns about quality. However, the extra weight slowed and lengthened the ripening process and this combined with great weather brought our grapes to perfect ripeness. This was the first vintage in years where our grapes had little or no stress (no heat spells or drought).’