SAN FRANCISCO — California vintners and growers across the state are grateful for another excellent vintage, despite an ongoing drought and earthquake that rocked south Napa in late August just as crush was getting underway, according to the California Wine Institute.
A mild winter and spring caused early bud break, although the overall length of the growing season was similar to past years. A compacted harvest began in July for sparkling wines and started winding down by mid-October for later ripening varieties. Moderate temperatures, with only minimal rain in September, allowed for even ripening.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture Pacific Regional Crop Production Report of August 2014, California’s wine grape production this year is forecast at 3.9 million tons, down 8 percent from 2013’s record high crop. The 2014 harvest is the third largest on record.
“We are about 80 per cent done, going into the second week of October,” said Glenn Andrade, vice-president winemaking for Trinchero Family Estates, farmers of more than 10,000 acres of vineyards across Napa, Sonoma, the Central Coast, Lodi and Amador. “We’ve had pretty light to moderate yields this harvest, resulting in exceptional quality. Our Amador Zinfandels are amazing—great intensity and quality. We should be done by the week of Oct. 20, which is early for us, as typically, it’s the first week in November.”
“The 2014 vintage was by far the earliest start of any harvest I can recall,” said Adam Mettler, director of winemaking for Michael David Winery in Lodi. “Early concerns about adequate storage quickly faded as our vineyards continued to check in at 20-25 percent down in volume from the previous two years. The moderate crop size allowed for rapid sugar accumulation early, which created some challenging high-density fermentations, but resulted in some real nice wines.”
Renee Ary, winemaker at Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa Valley is also very pleased with the vintage. “2014 will be noted as one of the earliest vintages in over a decade, but it will also go down as one of the best. Challenged by drought, an earthquake, rain, hail and significant heat, you would think there would be a lot of obstacles to navigate, however the timing of the events paired with some planning allowed us to dodge these curveballs and land another fantastic vintage.
“Tannins are in check and berries are small, which is translating into great balance and concentration in the cellar. Yields and quality are above average across all varieties, and I am anticipating a lot of beautiful 2014 wines to come.”
“Quality is outstanding,” echoed Chrissy Wittmann, winemaker at Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards in Paso Robles. “There are small berries with good tannin and color release on the reds, and flavourful fruit with bright aromatics on the whites. Now, we are in the home stretch, with this latest heat wave pushing the last of the hanging grapes into pick mode.”
“The 2014 vintage was phenomenal for Wente Family Estates and Livermore Valley,” exclaimed Karl Wente, fifth generation winemaker for the family winery.
“We had outstanding color, the extractions were fantastic and we had great fruit character throughout. The lack of late-season rain and a long growing season helped ensure optimum fruit maturity.”
In Sonoma County, there were more accolades for the vintage from Corey Beck, president and director of winemaking at Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
“In the past 17 years that I’ve been with Coppola, this has to be the best vintage I’ve ever seen. I remember saying that about the 2013 vintage, too. We’ve been so fortunate to have two back-to-back phenomenal harvests. We buy grapes from a variety of growers in various sub-appellations throughout Sonoma County, and to see that level of quality and consistency in each of the diverse varieties across the region is remarkable. The Chardonnay grapes were supple and succulent; the Cabernets were deep and complex—across the board, it’s a great vintage.”
“We are very pleased with the assessments of an exceptional 2014 vintage for California wine statewide,” said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, president and CEO of Wine Institute. “And we look forward to sharing these outstanding 2014 wines with wine lovers throughout the nation and the world. Although we came through this harvest without major impact, we’re keenly aware of the ongoing drought and its effects on California’s entire agricultural community, including wine. We are doing our part as vintners and growers to mitigate water usage through a variety of sustainable practices.”
Nick Buttita, Owner/Winemaker, Rosa d’Oro Vineyards
“We will finish our harvest season only one week early. We had an early bud break and a virtually frost-free spring. We only had to frost protect one time, which we do by wind machine to keep the air circulating. We have had an almost perfect growing season with only moderate disease or pest pressure. Although the growing season looked about a month early, three hot weeks actually set that back, rather than thrusting harvest forward.”
Matt Hughes, Winemaker, Six Sigma Ranch and Winery
“Overall it’s a solid vintage with average yields. This year’s Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best I’ve worked with. Our Tempranillo is showing awesome potential as well. We had so much heat throughout the season the vines simply gave up, canes hardened off in July and canopies shut down, almost as if it was very cold. Early fruit had an amazing balance of maturity and sugar levels. Crazy, we just had to read sugar levels on the run, and rejoice in the confluence of conditions.”
Collin Cranor, Winemaker, Nottingham Cellars
“2014 was another successful vintage here in the Livermore Valley, bringing in a third exceptional vintage in a row. For the most part, the valley set a larger than normal fruit zone a few weeks earlier than normal. However, the seasoned growers recognized the looming drought and were proactive in reducing vigor early, resulting in higher than normal cluster counts but small/fewer berries. The drought sped things up and reduced yields. Most vineyards were down 20-30 percent, however some experienced less than 50 percent of anticipated crop.”
Stuart Spencer, Winemaker, St. Amant Winery
“The Zinfandel we picked from Marian’s Vineyard looks fabulous. It was the earliest we have picked Zinfandel here in Lodi since 2004. The crop was lighter than the last couple of years with Brix at 24 degrees; clusters are a little smaller, and berries are a little smaller than the last couple of years. It will make a nice wine.”
Michael McCay, Owner/Winemaker, McCay Cellars
“In 2014, we picked Grenache from the Manassero Vineyard in Lodi that was planted in 1935. The beautiful concentrated fruit and small berries were spectacular. The weather has been very balanced with warm days and cool nights.”
Steve Schafer, Owner, San Joaquin Wine Co.
“In my opinion, the quality of the vintage this year is going to be exceptional. The reds in particular have excellent character and color, even though the crop matured earlier than I can ever recall. Crop size in our area was average at best for white varietals with reds being down 10-20 percent.”
Bob Blue, Vice President, Director of Winemaking, Bonterra
“The 2014 harvest is yet another in a string of beautiful vintages, adding onto 2012 and 2013. In this severe drought year, late March and April storms really saved the year in many ways. The Chardonnay quality seems very good, with rich flavors of lemon and apple this year. With such a dry summer we saw much smaller berry size in the red grapes and as a result we are seeing a big concentration of color and flavor in the Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandels. Again the berry size is small and the flavors are rich in the Bordeaux varieties, and we think the quality will be very high with nice concentration.”
Jim Schultz, Proprietor/Winemaker, Windy Oaks Winery and Vineyards
“Consistent with the very early start to the growing season, with many areas having bud break in February, harvest in many areas of Monterey, such as the Chalone and Santa Lucia Highlands appellations, started and finished earlier than anyone could remember. In general, yields were average, with excellent fruit quality. Most varietals showed nice balance, with slightly lower acidity due to warmer-than-normal night temperatures. All of the elements are in place.”
Julianne Laks, Winemaker, Cakebread Cellars
“Mother Nature blessed us with a consistently temperate growing season in 2014. Despite the drought, the timing of late spring rains delayed irrigation needs and moderated vine stress. We began harvesting Sauvignon Blanc in early August, almost two weeks ahead of normal. A repetition of warm periods, followed by cooler periods, provided ideal ripening weather and helped reduce the demand for water. The results were small berries with good acidity and highly concentrated aromas and flavors. Early indications show the 2014 wines are remarkable with great intense flavor, beautiful balance and fresh acidity. The white wines are richly flavored with excellent acidic structure. The red wines display deep color with highly complex aromas and flavours, woven together with elegant, supple tannins.”
Cathy Corison, Owner/Winemaker, Corison Winery
Napa Valley enjoyed a very cool summer and moderate fall, so the red wines boast inky color, complex, savory flavors and terrific natural acidity. So far the measured pace has made it easy to keep up. Though total rainfall fell far short of average this year, most of it came in the spring when the vines needed it most, so they’re in better shape than we might have expected. People irrigated less and smarter this year. The Cabernet crop looks to be a bit larger than average, so yields don’t seem to have been affected.
PASO ROBLES/SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY
Fred Holloway, Winemaker, Justin Winery
The 2014 vintage began with an extremely dry and mild winter that led to an early spring causing bud-break in early to mid-March throughout the AVA, about two-three weeks earlier than normal. The warm weather continued with no rain or humidity concerns, but winds that occurred during flowering caused slightly uneven berry-set, with the advantage of reducing our yields and opening the clusters a bit to airflow and sunshine. Warm weather with slightly higher humidity for this region continued through mid-July. Our first blocks of Sauvignon Blanc came in mid-August, tied with 2004 for our earliest harvest. The second half of August saw some cooler temps that slowed things down and allowed the red grapes to better harmonize.”
Anne Moller-Racke, Principal/Winegrower, The Donum Estate
“The rains in 2014 came in February, changing the landscape from the driest season ever to slightly below normal. A mild spring caused flowering in early May, setting the season up to be an early one.
“We are very pleased with the fruit we brought to the winery. September weather allowed us to pick each block at optimum ripeness. The flavor profile seems similar to 2013; the wines are tannic, with moderate weight and alcohol, bright red fruit and the signature Carneros earthiness.”