2015 is the fourth hot, dry year in a row here in California and it looks as though it is going to gift us with another excellent crop of fruit. The spring started out cool, with a long and slow flowering period. Fruit set was poor as a result, and uneven grape clusters were not uncommon throughout vineyards in Napa Valley. Things picked up with summer turning out to be the warmest in about seven years. The summer heat sped up the ripening process, leading 2015 to be one of the earliest harvests on record. Grapes for sparkling wine were picked as early as July 22nd with most growers having harvested the last of their grapes by the second week of October. To put this in to perspective, that is nearly three weeks early. Vintners typically pick their grapes well into late October or early November.
Water stress caused by another year of drought, means smaller, highly concentrated berries which are expected to give rich wines with great color, depth and flavor. Due in part to the unusually cool spring, yields this year are down especially in comparison with recent harvests. The previous three vintages, 2012-2014 are some of the largest harvests ever produced in Napa.
The series of fires that wrought so much damage over the summer stayed mainly along the fringes of the county. Although many homes were lost, the rampant wildfires failed to touch any of Napa's vineyards or wineries. Lake County to the north was less fortunate, with several wineries reporting damage. Even if a fire doesn't consume a vineyard, the smoke from the fires can cause undesirable aromas and flavors to develop in the grapes. Compounds from the smoke enter through the skins of the grapes and through the vine itself. Southwesterly winds blew smoke safely away from vineyards, and all fears for smoke-taint showing up in this year's wines may be allayed. Fortunately for winemakers, the testing conducted thus far shows no evidence of taint.
What's the takeaway for the 2015 vintage? Early indications are looking good. Berries with higher concentration coupled with a lower yield means wines packed with pigment, power and flavor. Cabernet Sauvignon especially could prove to be ageable. This also means more limited quantity. Don't be surprised to see prices go up. We won't be able to get our hands on the reds for a few years as they slumber in their oak barrels, but come next spring, you can start enjoying the ripe, fresh whites.