Vintages at Grgich Hills Estate
This was a wonderful vintage from start to finish, our best since 2005. We enjoyed a longer-than-average growing season, with 70 days between véraison to picking. A gentle spring allowed for textbook flowering and fruit set, followed by a long procession of warm, sunny days with no nasty heat spikes. Thanks to the excellent weather, we harvested close to 1,400 tons of grapes, averaging around 3.8 tons per acre. While this is more than average for Grgich Hills, it is more typical of Napa Valley wineries.
Thanks to cool weather and unexpected rains, this was a demanding, but in the end, rewarding vintage for us. More reminiscent of France than Napa Valley, the 2011 vintage produced elegant wines with great aromatics and the lower level of sugars from the cool growing season translated into lower alcohol. The wet winter and spring delayed the start of bloom and then cool temperatures slowed grape development, pushing the start of harvest back by two weeks.
Cool and long sum up the vintage. Spring temperatures were below average with above average rain, pushing back budbreak by two weeks. The cool temperatures continued into summer allowing for steady but slow grape ripening until a heat spike in the end of August. September started hot then cooled off until another heat spike at the end of September brought much-needed heat to ripe red grapes. Thanks to Biodynamic farming, all of our grapes were ripe and we finishing picking just before the season’s first- significant rain on October 24th.
For the third year in a row, Napa Valley received only two-thirds of its average rainfall, which reduced crops levels somewhat. Spring was essentially frost-free and a relatively cool summer with no drastic heat surges brought smooth, even grape development. Just before harvest a few days of heat spikes insured perfect ripeness.
For the first time in 32 vintages, we did not see a drop of rain from budbreak to harvest. The growing season started with some late frosts, which we managed to escape without much damage. Temperatures were mild through the summer, except for a heat spike for a week in June. After drought conditions and relatively cool summer, harvest was jump-started with another heat spike the end of August. As a result, we had one of our shortest harvests ever—we brought everything into the winery within 30 days of starting. We harvested all of our white grapes in span of 10 days and then enjoyed a short breather before harvesting our red grapes. The vintage produced elegant wines with lower alcohol and wonderful acidity. The white wines have great aromatics and the reds wines have mature tannins. As a result of our organic and Biodynamic® farming, our vineyards were healthy throughout the entire growing season and actually increased yield, averaging about 3.3 tons per acre.
The warm spring brought early budding and bloom, followed by a relatively cool summer that gave a long growing time on the vine and then a heat spike at the end that jump-started harvest. Because we received only 60 percent of our normal precipitation, the grapes were smaller, reducing yield but giving us concentrated flavors.
A cool vintage in general, the growing season starting with a wet winter and spring that delayed budbreak and led into a slow, even, ripening of the grapes. Then a heat spike in July helped the grapes catch up to a normal physiological ripeness followed by an unusually cool August that allowed the grapes to completely ripen without dehydrating. Thanks to our organic and Biodynamic farming, the vines remained healthy throughout the temperature swings, providing us with fully ripe, flavorful grapes.
This is a vintage that will be remembered for its long, cool growing season. The year began with heavy rains, and then a spell of 80-degree weather in early March triggered budbreak. The generally cool summer allowed the grapes to ripen smoothly and completely, without any major heat spikes to confuse them. Mildew was not a problem for us as in some cool years due to our Biodynamic® farming practices.
The growing season started early and finished early. We enjoyed moderate temperatures through most of the summer until a heat spell in late August pushed harvest into overdrive so we enjoyed an early and short harvest. These conditions produced clusters with perfectly ripe small berries with concentrated flavors.
Bud break came early in 2003, followed by a cool and wet spring that slowed down development. After a long, steady growing season, a few heat spikes in September accelerated ripening, which were followed by days of cool weather, so we had a rollercoaster ride waiting for the grapes to get perfectly ripe.
The 2002 vintage saw frost in April and then summer brought a long, mild growing season with warm days and cool nights—perfect for fine winegrowing. In late September and early October we experienced some heat spikes that sped up harvest. By carefully monitoring the grape maturity, we picked the grapes when they were perfectly ripe.
An early spring, a surprise frost and early heat spikes led to a bit of a roller coaster ride for the 2001 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 hang time on the vine, producing remarkably fruit.
The 21st century in the Napa Valley began with a 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.
A long, cool spring gave way to a mild summer. With only one heat spike recorded in the first part of July, the 1999 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 as red and white grapes reached maturity simultaneously. Napa Valley received only a trace of rain from April through October, leading to extremely healthy fruit arriving at the winery.
An abnormally wet El Niño spring and late summer caused a poor set for the 1998 vintage crop. 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, we 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, we saw 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. 1997 was a vintage of great quality and quantity.
An unseasonably warm winter with substantial rainfall launched the 1996 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. 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. Smaller clusters and a light crop resulted in deeply flavored grapes, with the overall harvest down by 20-30%.
A year of weather extremes marked the 1995 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, the vintage was 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 we compensated by thinning fruit to allow only the best grapes to reach maturation.
An uneventful, warm spring concluded with unexpected rain during the bloom period in May, resulting in lower berry set and ultimate crop reduction of 20% to 30% at harvest. 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.
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 quick start to harvest in August, but a return to normally cool nights and foggy mornings allowed harvest to proceed at a more relaxed pace.
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 crop was important. 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.
Soaking spring rains during bloom reduced the size of the crop somewhat, but the long, warm summer that followed allowed grapes to ripen uniformly and achieve near-perfect fruit maturity, acid levels and sugar content. Mild weather during harvest allowed picking to proceed at a normal pace and late rains came too late in the season to do much damage. With both red and white varietals showing excellent balance, the vintage was overall one of high quality and slightly lower quantity.Thanks to the Napa Valley Vintners for their help in some of these notes.