This was a vintage of contrasts: contrasts from previous vintages, and contrasts from early predictions to final outcome, yet winegrowers adapted to changing conditions all along the way to finish with what was an outstanding vintage.
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Temperatures were warmer than normal as winter continued into spring with resulting earlier budding, bloom and set in the vineyards across all varieties. The summer growing season continued on the mild to cool side, with few days topping degrees, even in the warmest locations in the appellation.
There were also notably fewer days in the 90s, and harvest followed a traditional, even relaxed, pace. There was a brief period of heat that spiked around Labor Day, but the temperatures cooled after several days.
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This heat spike added the boost of sugar development that growers were looking for to complement the excellent acid structure developed in the white varieties. Clusters, as well as individual berries on the clusters, though set at a normal quantity, were notably smaller in all varieties due to the dry season. The timing was just a little ahead of normal.
The first rounds of thinner-skinned white varieties like Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and then Chardonnay for still wines began in late August and continued into mid-September. In September the region saw a couple of periods of brief precipitation.
Nearly all white varieties were already picked and the thicker-skinned black varieties like Cabernet and Merlot were unaffected by the rain. The valley floor crop, including most of the black varieties, was almost fully harvested when unseasonably cool and wet weather arrived the second week in October, with nearly an inch of rain falling in parts of the appellation. Indian Summer returned with warm, clear days and vineyard crews sprang into action to finish harvest for what appears to be a vintage of exceptional quality from all points around the Napa Valley.
The harvest finished in early November and will go down as a 'grower's year' as vintners were faced with a variety of challenges from New Year flooding to wet weather that continued late into spring delaying budbreak. By early June, the sun came out and vines began to bloom and set fruit.
Mid-July presented a record-setting ten day heat wave, but the canopy had not yet been thinned because of the delayed season and young clusters were shaded from the hot sun. Most growers agreed that the heat helped catch the vines up to a "normal" place in the growing season. Somewhat cooler weather arrived in August and continued throughout harvest, allowing for moderately paced and deliberate ripening and a long harvest period.
Cool weather dominated early October, with rain coming in the first week, but the white varieties were in and this presented no damage to the black varieties still on the vine. Winter rains took pause for a dry, mild March then began again with record-setting precipitation late into the growing season delaying bloom and set. The summer months were cool and pleasant with few heat spikes.
Fog and cool temperatures were a concern heading into September as sugar levels were yet to rise in all varieties. Warm, nearly perfect conditions arrived with an Indian Summer making for a later than average harvest, providing winemakers with fruit with extended hang and ultimately realizing excellent sugar development and balanced acids with a larger than average crop of what could be a signature vintages from Napa Valley.
Bud break occurred earlier than many vintners could remember and the trend carried forward throughout the growing season. Heat spikes occurred in June and at scattered intervals throughout the summer season. Grapes completed veraison early and ripeness with well developed sugars in all varieties was realized early.
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Growers held on as acid balance eventually caught up. Temperatures were steady into one of the earliest harvests in Napa Valley. Grape quality was very good with a crop that was smaller than average. The unpredictable nature of the growing season began with a series of early heat spikes in March, followed by the wettest April on record.
A long cool summer allowed the fruit flavors to evolve beautifully ahead of the sugar accumulation. Heat spikes in September helped move the harvest forward after many felt it would be a late year.
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The vintage will be remembered by a long, mostly mild growing season, followed by warm weather near the end of September that pushed the ripening level upward, concentrated fruit flavors and condensed the harvest. An early April frost and May rains gave way to a mild summer with ideal growing conditions - warm days and cool, even cold, nights.
Overall, the grape crop was balanced, showing excellent intense colors and flavor concentrations. While per-acre tonnage was generally lower than average, the overall yield of the entire Napa Valley appellation was average to above average. An early spring, a surprise frost and early heat spikes led to a bit of a roller coaster ride for the vintage crop. But the weather evened out, condensing the harvest and producing a near simultaneous harvest of grapes. The up and down temperatures began with a cold and harsh March, with two deceptive heat spikes into the 80s, which coaxed the vines into a slightly earlier bloom.
The hottest May on record and the third hottest June in total degree days led to a harvest time around two to three weeks ahead of normal. August cooled to near perfect temperatures with cool nights, allowing the grapes to settle and extend the all-important hang time on the vine, producing remarkably clean fruit. The 21st century in the Napa Valley began with a virtually picture perfect growing season. The almost uneventful spring and summer weather pattern, every grower's dream, produced fruit of exceptional quality. A cool, even growing season throughout, except for a three-day heat stretch of unusually high temperatures in June and ominous rain clouds in late August, led to a compact harvesting period that finished in mid-October.
Yields were were average on a per acre basis, however, with numerous post-phylloxera vineyards coming on line, the year's overall tonnage was up noticeably. A long, cool spring gave way to a mild summer. With only one heat spike recorded in the first part of July, the vintage ripened under conditions that allowed a long hang-time that resulted in fruit of concentrated varietal flavors with a strong backbone of acid. Harvest got underway following a weekend of intense summer heat late in September.
October proved to be a very active month in vineyards and winery crush pads as red and white grapes reached maturity simultaneously. Napa Valley received only a trace of rain from April through October, leading to extremely clean fruit arriving at the wineries. During the growing season, clusters also were subjected to uneven ripening and threatened with sunburn, sending growers into the vineyard, performing more hand manipulation of the vines and reducing crops.
With a later than usual harvest, growers faced the possibility of rains, but nature cooperated with a warm and sunny early autumn. Picking started in late September, went into full swing in October and reached completion in early November. The clusters, while small and low in weight, produced elegant fruit with definite personality and complexity. The juice to skin ratio was very low, which translates into extracted wines with concentrated fruit flavors.
The season started when the warm, dry soils at the end of February triggered budbreak a full month early. Bloom followed in early May. As the fruit set, growers recognized that the outstanding weather of the previous year would result in an exceptional crop. A temperate summer with moderate, steady temperatures allowed the fruit to reach optimal maturity with good hang time for the full development of character and flavors. An unseasonably warm winter with substantial rainfall launched the growing season with an early bud break.
A cool spring was followed by intermittent rain during the May bloom period, causing shatter in many vineyards and reducing the potential crop size.
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A relatively warm summer with several heat spells speeded veraison and ripening, while a cooling trend in September allowed grape flavors to catch up with sugars, bringing the fruit into excellent balance. A year of weather extremes marked the vintage, which saw winter floods, spring rains and a June hailstorm. The dramatic weather events got the growing season off to a late start, and although summer heat pushed grapes to maturity, harvest was late and yields were down. Moderate Indian Summer temperatures permitted extended hang time for red varieties, important to the development of rich flavors and deep color.
Overall, vintners characterized the year as late, light and luscious. A long, cool spring followed by a cool summer produced slightly lower grape yields of richly concentrated fruit. The effects of low winter rainfall were mitigated by the combination of cool daytime temperatures and evening marine fog. The moderate temperatures were optimum for grape quality. A two-week period of hot weather at the beginning of August created some uneven coloration during veraison, and growers compensated by thinning fruit to allow only the best grapes to reach maturation. Cool growing season temperatures were broken with intermittent heat spells in August and September, resulting in several selective harvests, rather than one extended crush.
Grape quality was excellent, with intense flavors off the vine, although some varieties experienced sunburn and required selective picking at harvest. Early budbreak, followed by prolonged bloom induced by cool weather, caused uneven set, requiring cluster pruning in some varieties. June brought unseasonable rain, but worries were erased by the warm, dry weather which followed and continued through the summer. High temperatures brought a somewhat frenzied start to harvest in August, when it seemed all varieties would ripen at once, but a return to normally cool nights and foggy mornings allowed harvest to proceed at a more relaxed pace.
Both quality and quantity were good for all varietals in all growing areas. Vineyards entered the growing season in a state of dormancy, induced by a December freeze which saw temperatures plummet into the teens. Heavy March rainfall prior to budbreak, followed by ideal weather during bloom, resulted in an abundant set of excellent fruit. Thinning of the resultant large crop was important and widespread.
Cool to moderate temperatures, broken by a brief heat spike in early July, extended the growing season — ideal for concentrating fruit flavors and maintaining desirable high acidity. All varietals were intensely colored and rich in flavor at harvest.