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Napa Valley Vintage Recap

by David on June 27, 2009

The information below gives you a valley-wide perspective on past vintages here in the Napa Valley. Whenever you look at a vintage chart or recap, such as this one, it’s good to remember that this is the big picture. In reality, any given winery may have good luck on “bad” years and vice versa, so this is only a general guideline. Vintages such as 2010 also help demonstrate how winemakers and vineyard managers can help “create their own luck” through attentive, diligent vineyard management.

2013 The 2013 growing season will be remembered for above average yields, steady weather, optimal ripening and excellent quality. This was indeed a season of quantity at Goosecross with all of our stainless steel tanks filled to capacity and the need to rent portable tanks to manage overflow. It was also a season of quality with complex aromas and flavors in the grapes, perfect ripeness, and ideal hang time. All indicators present vintage 2013 an “epic” vintage. A warm, dry spring brought early bud break, and steady weather helped with canopy vigor, bloom, fruit set, and berry size. The warm weather we experienced throughout most of June and July allowed veraison to progress uniformly, and a generous crop allowed the grapes to develop flavor without sugars skyrocketing. Our first day of harvest was August 21, which was two weeks early this year. The white wine grapes came in fast and furious, then we moved to reds in September and October. The two brief September rains had no real impact on the grapes and helped settle the vineyard dust. The cooler, sunny weather in October allowed the red wine grapes to maintain acidity and sugar levels through ripening resulting in balanced wines with very impressive flavors and complex aromas. Overall, 2013 was a hallmark of a great vintage in Napa Valley.

2012 The 2012 growing season was ideal, with lots of sunshine and warmth, few intense heat spikes and low disease pressure. Growers in Napa Valley reveled in the mild weather which led to a generous crop of grapes showing excellent color and flavor. The perfect  weather conditions led to exceptional fruit quality and better balance in PH and acid than the past two years. 2012 promises to be one of the best vintages. With lovely spring weather during bloom, grapevines were able to “set” a high percentage of their flowers into berries. The warm weather we experienced through most of August allowed veraison to progress uniformly and quickly, which resulted in a uniform, ripe crop. A generous crop also necessitated some crop thinning in the Goosecross vineyard. The cool September nights, down to the mid-40’s, and warm days in the 80’s and 90’s preserved the acidity and kept the sugars from exploding. With a good fruit set and healthy vines, harvest was abundant on the Goosecross Estate. We cultivated a bountiful crop of exceptional grapes and look forward to releasing some extraordinary wines in the near future.

2011 Vintage 2011 was a tricky year. It started off cool with 48 inches of rain in parts of Napa Valley, much of it coming in late spring, The cool, wet spring discouraged pollination of grape buds (shatter) and led to a poor fruit set, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon. In July and August we had perfect ripening weather, while September was notably cool. We needed to drop fruit this year and open up the canopy by leafing the fruit zone a little more than usual to increase air flow. October brought in warmer weather and the ongoing pressure from botrytis made picking fast and furious. We needed to pick around the rot in one vineyard this year with a careful eye on field sorting. The grapes show very good quality with sugars between 23°-24° Brix and excellent color. Winemakers who were content to wait for optimum flavors and maturity were rewarded with pure flavors.  Harvest extended into November this year resulting in low yields, intense fruit flavors and incredible concentration. All in all, it was a year to be very proactive and attentive in the vineyard, and it’s a year that will showcase the talents of the  best winemakers. Overall yield is down about 20% records show.

2010 An exceptionally chilly, wet spring followed by a cool “summer of no summer” had growers biting their nails, concerned the grapes wouldn’t ripen before the rainy season. Diligent vineyard managers did multiple vineyard passes thinning shoots and leaves to improve ventilation to keep mildew at bay. Many stripped the leaves in the “fruit zone” in August to speed along the ripening with increased light exposure.The reward was a series of brief, intense heat waves that dried up some of the exposed clusters. Most wineries began receiving grapes around the second week of  September, about two – three weeks later than normal. Those who thinned the shriveled clusters noticed surprisingly good flavor development and  intensity, probably due to the prolonged ripening season. The repeated heat waves brought a great deal of fruit ripe at the same time, causing very hectic work for the winemakers. However, it was a blessing for many, like Goosecross, who managed to get all of their fruit in before heavy mid-October rains caused rot in some locations. This vintage ranges from excellent, for those who did the necessary thinning of dried and rotten grapes, to poor for those who didn’t. The Napa Valley Vintners association estimates the overall crop level as down by 10-30%, depending upon location. Goosecross winemaker, Geoff Gorsuch has remarked that the Goosecross wines are, perhaps, our best so far and the yields were down by about 25%.

2009 After a nearly textbook growing season of mild, sunny days and cool, foggy nights, we were reminded not to count our chickens before they’re hatched! It was almost unbelievably smooth sailing until October 13, when we received over three inches of rain in 24 hours! The bad news: A little sprinkle doesn’t much matter, but heavy rain can cause rot, mildew and dilution. The good news: A great deal of the crop was already in by that time, leaving mostly rot-resistant Cabernet out in the rain, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. For Goosecross, the only variety unharvested at that point was Syrah which, like Cabernet, is tough skinned and loose clustered. Our winemaker was relieved to see the fruit come in looking good. But, the vintage will always be discussed in terms of what came in before and after the rain. As winemakers began to discuss the vintage, the most common themes were good flavor maturity at relatively low brix (sugar levels) and good, deep color in the reds – a good indicator for flavor intensity.

2008 This vintage will be talked about, for years to come, as a roller-coaster ride in a region renowned for its agreeable, predictable climate. The worst spring for frost since 1973 took its toll on crop yields, followed by excess heat and rain during bloom, in May, further trimming expectations regarding tonnage. The term “smoke taint” entered our vocabulary for the first time due to a rash of wildfires in late June and early July. Fortunately, no damage was reported in Napa Valley.

Overall, the season was a cool one, allowing for plenty of hangtime, punctuated by a few blasts of heat to bring up the sugars. Rain was about 2/3s of normal, but the vines reacted as if there was a drought, producing unusually small grapes. The small berry size explains the tremendous intensity of color and flavor in the reds. Harvest came early and started with a bang, but the cool conditions that followed made for an almost easy-going crush schedule. Valley wide, nearly every block was in by mid-October, an early finish to a challenging vintage. 2008 will be known for very fine quality and surprisingly low quantity.

2007 The growing season started slightly early and took off like a shot in the beautiful “July in March” weather putting the season as much as 2 weeks ahead of “normal” for some growers. Remarkably mild conditions prevailed in the months that followed raising expectations for an exceptionally high-quality vintage throughout the valley. For most producers “crush” began early and many of us were actively harvesting in August. A brief heat wave around Labor Day hastened the process, followed by a very significant cool down for the rest of the season. Goosecross finished harvest on October 4 and the following weeks brought sporadic rainfall, sometimes heavy. Very little damage was reported because the remaining varieties to be picked, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, have good rot resistance and there were enough warm days to bring the sugars up. This is considered an outstanding vintage characterized by small, intensely flavored berries, full flavor maturity without high sugars and a crop that was somewhat smaller than normal.

2006 This was a year of drama and challenge for the local growers that included winter floods, a record-setting heat wave and some rain during flowering and harvest. The growing season began nearly 3 weeks late after a long, very wet winter, but moderate temperatures in April and May helped the vines to begin to catch up. Flowering was only slightly late. Some rain the third week of May caused a little “shatter” (impaired pollination) in the vineyards, including Goosecross Merlot, so there was slight crop loss for some of the growers. After fruit set3 the cluster counts indicated that the crop would be slightly below normal in size. The summer was mild overall with the exception of a record setting 10-day heat wave in July causing some leaf and clusters to burn slightly. The heavy rains had produced an abundant leaf canopy, helping to shield the grapes from sunburn, but some crop thinning was necessary nevertheless due to sunburn. Harvest began a week to two weeks behind normal, depending on the grower, with dry, moderate temperatures allowing for gradual, even ripening. Widespread damage to Chardonnay throughout the north coast was reported due to some rainfall in the first week of October. Lucky growers, like Goosecross, already had their Chardonnay in; others struggled to sort through the rot. With the late start, it wasn’t surprising to see grape deliveries going up and down the valley as late as the first week of November, but conditions were dry and temperatures mild for bringing in the last of the crop. Prolonged “hang time”1, sugars and acids in good balance and small berries and clusters worked in concert to produce some excellent wines from 2006.

2005 Unseasonably late spring rains delayed flowering and caused concern about crop loss and mold problems. Fortunately, our fears were unfounded. The summer months were mild and pleasant followed by continued warm, nearly perfect ripening conditions in the early fall. Without the typical heat spikes the harvest was late for most growers, with grapes on the vine well into November in some cases. Ordinarily this might be a cause for concern, but continued warm, dry weather allowed for extended hang time1 and great flavor concentration. Virtually the whole valley brought in an exceptionally fine vintage. The 2005 vintage will be long remembered for bringing us not only remarkable quality but bountiful quantity too!

2004 The growing season got off to an unusually early, jack-rabbit start with very warm conditions spurring rapid vine development. Heat spikes in June and at scattered intervals throughout the summer continued the trend. The sugars gave growers the signal to harvest early, but those who held on were rewarded with a good acid balance and flavor maturity. Fine harvest weather led to good, to very fine grape quality and a crop that was smaller than average.

2003 We’ll remember 2003 for a warm “July in March” followed by drenching rain in April. Fortunately, the unnerving spring was followed by a long, cool summer, giving the vines a breather and allowing for excellent flavor development before the sugars got too high. While many felt the cool summer weather would make for a late harvest, heat spikes in September and warm, dry weather throughout harvest helped bring the fruit in on time. Ultimately this was quite a good harvest.

2002 The 2002 vintage was so mild as to lull one into complacency. A small amount of spring frost and a little rain in May, led to the text book warm days and cools nights we look for to prolong the ripening season and give us the quality we seek. We were snapped to attention by heat in September that brought in a lot of fruit in a short time. Yields were below average. At the time of harvest, the 2002 crop was somewhat overlooked, probably due to the excitement about the 2001 vintage. Now that the wines have been in the bottle for awhile, we find that in many cases the 2002s surpass the 2001s in quality and character.

2001 A cold, early spring followed by record heat in May and near record temperatures in June got us off to a wild start and pushed the vines nearly three weeks ahead of schedule. But, it became an easy ride by mid-summer through harvest. Near perfect temperatures with cool nights, and warm but not hot days, allowed for the all-important hang time producing an early, but remarkably good vintage.

2000 Wedged between the acclaimed 1999 and 2001 vintages, the first vintage of the new century was somewhat overlooked at first. It appeared to be a text-book vintage until some ill-timed harvest rains created localized crop damage – some growers severely affected and others not at all. It cast a pall on the vintage, but now that the wines have some bottle age we find them to be quite delightful and tending to early maturity. Yields were average and harvest was compact, beginning a little late and complete by mid-October.

1999 These are generally long-lived wines coming from a very fine vintage. From spring through summer the temperatures were quite mild with only one heat spike in early July – ideal conditions for developing concentrated flavors and beautiful balance. Harvest was late getting started, around mid-September, but once begun, was very compressed due to heat in late September. The reds get their longevity from the firm acidity typical of a cool growing season, and well developed tannins.

1998 Uneven is the word that best characterizes the 1998 vintage. It was a challenging growing season beginning with an unusually wet spring leading to crop loss early in the season. Heat spikes scattered throughout the summer threatened the grapes with sunburn and uneven ripening. Finally, although the harvest was late, the weather cooperated and it was completed by early November. The grapes and clusters were quite small, meaning a good skin to juice ratio and the resulting flavor concentration. As with any difficult vintage, those who were detail-oriented and did the necessary hand-thinning of leaves and clusters managed to produce some very fine wines, just not much volume. These wines have become great bargains, when you can find them, because the bad press about this vintage affected the sales, even for those wines of good quality and character.

1997 This is considered a classic vintage and only 2005 has been compared to it since. Early, early, early is another word for this vintage. Bud break was nearly a month early due to lack of spring rain and rapidly warming soils. It was followed by early flowering and an early harvest, finishing well before October! Steady, beautiful summer weather allowed the fruit to ripen slowly with good hang time1 for good flavor and character development. 1997 also proved to be a generous vintage. Quantity and quality are truly a rare combination leaving many growers and producers in the mood to celebrate!

1996 Early bud break brought on by a very wet, warm winter was followed by a cool spring with May rains that impaired pollination and reduced the crop size. Once summer came, it really came, and it was marked by several heat spikes speeding the ripening along. A cool, comfortable early fall gave the flavors time to catch up to the rapidly rising sugars resulting in very well balanced, small berries with great color and intensity of flavor. Harvest was finished in early October, before the rains came and 1996 turned out to be quite a good vintage with big tannins, excellent flavor concentration and was about 25% below normal in yield.

1995 After winter flooding and a late beginning to the growing season, a hailstorm in June thinned the crop and lowered expectations for the vintage. A number of heat spikes in the summer helped the ripening to come along, followed by mild harvest temperatures. Overall the grapes had very good hang time1 in order for flavors to fully mature. Harvest was late but the weather held. Yields were low, but 1995 has been considered one of the most luscious vintages of the decade.

1994 This was another textbook vintage with warm, but not hot days, and cool, foggy nights throughout. The mild weather and persistent fog helped to offset the lack of winter rain. The only deviation from this pattern was a prolonged heat wave in August which caused some uneven coloration and sunburn. It also put what looked likely to be a late harvest back on schedule. The most attentive producers hand-thinned the less desirable fruit before harvest. 1994, along with 1995, is considered a very fine vintage.

1993 This vintage got off to a wonderful start: on time and with no frost. We were snapped out of our complacency by unexpected, significant rain during the bloom period in May, resulting in poor pollination and an ultimate crop loss of about 20-25%. Mild temperatures throughout most of the summer were broken by a few heat spikes in August and September, necessitating more crop thinning to remove sunburned grapes. The uneven temperatures produced an uneven vintage. Those producers very well attuned to their vineyards and willing to be responsive were rewarded with a small crop, but with good flavor intensity. For the less selective this vintage produced a small yield of ordinary wine.

1992 Early bud break2 always brings the fear of frost damage, but fortunately we were spared. The real cause for fear was the cool weather that prolonged flowering in May, causing uneven fruit set3 and requiring growers to do some thinning. This was followed by unseasonable, substantial rain in June. With that behind us, the summer was warm and dry. Harvest started early with a bang, in August, due to sudden high temperatures. It appeared it would be a frantic harvest, with the crop coming in all at once, but the fog returned and temperatures eased, as did the pace of harvest. Yields were average and quality was very nice.

1991 This was a very fine vintage. Heavy winter rains followed by beautiful spring weather produced an abundant, gorgeous crop. With regret, growers did the necessary thinning to ensure flavor concentration. Summer temperatures were mild and ideal for allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and develop color and flavor intensity. Harvest began slightly late, yields were excellent and the vintage produced some very richly flavored wines.

1990 This was another year of crop loss due to ill-timed rain at flowering. It proved to be a year of good quality and less than normal quantities. Overall the summer was quite warm, but not enough to accelerate the ripening unreasonably. Harvest came a bit early with ideal temperatures to promote good sugar to acid balance. A small amount of crop loss was reported due to October rains, but they were late enough that most growers escaped. Many outstanding wines were the result of this vintage.

1. Hang time: The number of days the grapes spend ripening on the vine. A long hang time is desirable for full flavor development.
2. Bud-break: This is the name used for the beginning of the growing season, when the vines emerge from dormancy. Buds swell and push out new shoots and leaves as the soil and daytime temperatures warm up in the late winter or early spring (usually mid-March in Napa Valley).
3. Fruit set (also called cluster set): The overall formation of the grape cluster following flowering. Normal clusters will be fully formed, with very few “shot berries” (missing grapes) and uniform grape size, depending on the variety or clone.

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