In general terms the 2007 growing season was characterized by warmer than usual daytime temperatures (3.6° F [1.8° C] above normal) with colder than usual nighttime lows (1.8° F [1° C] below normal). There was also more relative humidity throughout the year. On February 16, the nighttime temperatures throughout Mendoza plummeted to levels of 35 - 37° F (2 - 3° C). This caused a hormonal shock in the plant, signaling the onset of its autumnal cycle and significantly quickening the ripening process.
This phenomenon, coupled with increased temperatures throughout the year, meant that the harvest was earlier than usual by between 14, and even up to 30, days, depending on the area. The growing season also presented a higher than normal amount of both general precipitation and violent hail storms. Due to rain which began on March 24th, those grapes which had already been harvested and sent to Bodega Catena Zapata for vinification, showed excellent levels of quality and concentration. All white wine varietals, as well as low yielding lots, had already been harvested by March 24.
Several lots in Bodega Catena Zapata's highest altitude vineyards were left to continue the ripening process and recover from the precipitation.
The very cool temperatures in these vineyards, coupled with previously implemented water stress and leaf-pulling, allowed these lots to achieve excellent maturity, with very good overall sanitary conditions and harvest taking place very late in the year.
As part of Bodega Catena Zapata's ongoing Research & Development program, extensive experimentation was conducted in 2007 on the relationship between lower yields, canopy surface area and ripening cycle length. Please find below some preliminary results from this year's research.
It is an almost universally held viticultural truth that lower yields lead to higher levels of both aromatic and flavor concentration. However, what is commonly overlooked is their effect on the overall ripening process. Indeed, if not managed correctly, lower yields may not necessarily lead to improved fruit quality.
Over the last several years, Laura Catena and the Research & Development team at Bodega Catena Zapata, have conducted extensive experimentation on how to manage each vineyard lot in order to take advantage of everything lower yields have to offer.
One of the first findings was that if canopy surface area is held constant, lower yields will significantly accelerate the maturation process. The canopy (overall leaf number) can perhaps best be thought of as the engine of the vine, producing nutrients through photosynthesis which are sent to the grapes for ripening.
If the number of grape recipients (overall yield) is lowered, each grape will receive more nutrients, thereby quickening the maturation process. An accelerated ripening cycle, in turn, means a shorter window for the accumulation of the important polyphenolic components of color, aroma, and flavor - potentially offsetting the desired increases in concentration from lower yields. Experiments were specifically designed to discover when and how the process of polyphenolic accumulation is initiated.
These tests focused on the behavior of the vine hormone ethylene, widely recognized to be the trigger for fruit ripening and the production of polyphenols. It was discovered that careful irrigation management designed to induce slight amounts of water stress before flowering could actually initiate ethylene development and polyphenolic accumulation at an earlier stage in the growth cycle. This allowed for the same window of polyphenolic development despite lower yields.
Implemented throughout the Catena family's best vineyard lots, the combination of light water stress prior to flowering, together with drastically lower yields, resulted in notably earlier harvests than in previous years.
This vineyard, the highest in all of Mendoza, was also characterized by an early than normal harvest. While late November precipitation refreshed the vines from the higher temperatures, the rest of December, January and February were very dry. The shock of nighttime low temperatures in February again quickened the ripening cycle, with the Malbec harvest beginning on March 16th, almost a month ahead of time. Additional Malbec was brought in on March 20th and April 2. This fruit shows very high levels of flavor concentration and excellent tannin quality. The Cabernet Sauvignon harvest began on April 2, about 2 weeks early. Additional lots were harvested on April 9.
As was the case in Altamira in La Consulta, there were a few remaining lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec which were left in the vineyard to recover from the precipitation of early April. With similar vineyard characteristics of sandy, well-drained soils and extremely low temperatures, and with the vineyard management techniques of leaf-pulling and water restriction, the remaining Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon continued to ripen properly.
The harvest was taken up again on April 27th and lasted until May 4th. The last Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, harvested on April 30th showed a very ripe style of dark cassis fruit. The Malbec, harvested on May 4th, presented the same dark fruit profile typical of this vineyard, but with a higher level of polyphenolic concentration.LA PIRÁMIDE VINEYARD, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, 3117 ft elevation
On February 9th a violent rain and hail storm hit the areas of Agrelo and neighboring Perdriel. While a lot of Chardonnay was lightly damaged, it was hail netting on the Lot III of 25 year old Cabernet Sauvignon that saved fruit which usually goes into the Nicolas Catena Zapata blend.
Like Angelica, this vineyard was harvested about 2 weeks earlier than normal. Additional precipitation fell on March 24, but fortunately all the Malbec and the most important Cabernet Sauvignon grapes had already been harvested. The accelerated harvest meant excellent quality in this vineyard, again higher than in previous vintages.
There were some Cabernet Sauvignon lots which we left on the vine after the March precipitation. These lots were eventually declassified and not used in Bodega Catena Zapata wines due to a lack of concentration.
The climatic conditions mentioned above meant that the Malbec from this 70 year old vineyard was harvested in the first two weeks of March, about 2 weeks earlier than normal. Lower general yields and this earlier harvest meant an exceptional quality for this vineyard, higher than in previous years, with supple textures and excellent density.DOMINGO VINEYARD: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon - Villa Bastías, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, 3675 ft elevation
Following the pattern of the rest of the province, the ripening process was accelerated in this vineyard, with harvest about 10 days ahead of the historic average. A bit of rain in late November and again in early February actually refreshed the vines from the higher daytime temperatures. The Chardonnay was harvested on February 24, showing bright citrus fruit and excellent acidity. The Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested on March 24 with intense, lifted aromatics and excellent tannin quality.NICASIA VINEYARD: Malbec - Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, 3593 ft elevation
While daytime highs were above normal in this area, the nights were exceptionally cold. Light precipitation in late November cooled the temperatures down and the cold nights quickened the harvest. Early, low yielding lots were harvested on March 12 with intense violet aromatics and exceptionally concentrated dark fruit flavors. Some precipitation fell on March 14, but the extremely well drained sandy soils of the vineyard allowed for additional Malbec to be harvested in excellent sanitary conditions on March 20. The first Cabernet lots, with ripe cassis flavors and well structured tannins, were harvested on March 28, with additional lots brought in on April 6.
Additional precipitation came on April 10th. A few lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec were left on the vine to recover from this rain. The very well drained, sandy soils; low temperatures in the vineyard; previous leaf-pulling measures; and general water restriction meant that these could recover nicely from the moisture.
The harvest was taken up again on April 26th until May 2nd, with very healthy sanitary results in the fruit. The Malbec of this second harvest shows a more plum and strawberry marmalade based fruit profile, while the last lots of Cabernet Sauvignon showed more red currant aromas and flavors with a higher concentration of tannins.