Noted columnist Dan Berger is writing a book on Cabernet Sauvignon, and he and I regularly discuss a common mental ailment among my winemaker colleagues that I call “pyra-noia,” a morbid fear of Cabernet varietal character and in particular, the bell pepper aroma attributed to 2-Isobutyl-3-methoxypyrazine, or IMBP.

The history of this ailment is interesting. Like Type 2 diabetes, it was nearly unknown until skyrocketing in the early 1980s in response to the quite high levels of bell pepper in plantings in the Salinas Valley in Monterey County. This is thought to have been related to the fruit shading caused by the high vigor of own-rooted, virus-free vines in a cool climate.  When in 2008 my panel at tasted 126 wines from this area, we found that the viticultural practices (canopy manipulation, leaf pulling, deficit irrigation) and  winemaking techniques (whole berry fermentation, flash détente) had completely eliminated the problem.

Yet the mental disorder remains, and has spread to Napa Valley, where common practice is to mask varietal and terroir character through excessive hang time, resulting in high alcohol raisiny, pruney wines that all taste the same at breathtaking prices that appeal to the unwashed rich.

The average brix in 1976 for Napa Cabernet was 22.9, resulting in legendary wines from BV, Mondavi, Clos Du Val, Souverain and Burgess with distinctive character and astonishing longevity, many still wondeful today, half a century after they were made.  Today’s “clown wines,” which are harvested at an average of 25.6 brix, not only lack character but fall apart in the cellar by five years of age, to me a betrayal to the consumer.

But Mother Nature seems this year to be on the side of folks like Dan and me.  The freakishly cool growing season is giving us full maturity at less than 23 brix.  It’s basically a French year, with low brix, low malates, rich fruit and low pHs, hastening picking due to the threat of rain and botrytis rot.  We are all going to make elegant, balanced, distinctive wines in 2023 whether we want to or not.

ETS Labs just sent out a hilarious article offering cold comfort to the pyranoid entitled Why is monitoring IBMP important this year?  In essence, it says that this will be a high varietal character year and there’s nothing to be done about it except to send samples to ETS to measure the extent of the calamity. Here’s yet another supplier promoting pyra-noia.

Join Dan and me in rejoicing.  Who knows — when Napa winemakers see how wonderful these wines will be, some of them might even decide to make them that way on purpose, as André Tchelistcheff smiles down from Heaven.