Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

California wine growers predict high-quality 2015 vintage

Published:  16 October, 2015

The 2015 vintage looks set to be exceptional, according to wineries from across California.

The quality of the grapes is expected to more than compensate for a decline in volume.

Seasonal factors contributed to the development of smaller than usual grape clusters and variable crop size. A mild winter was followed by an unusually cool spring in most areas, leading to early bud break and protracted bloom. The summer itself was hot and dry.

The 2015 season was also one of the earliest on record. Harvesting began as early as July for some white and sparkling wines. Most wineries reported their harvest complete by the end of September.

"This year was the earliest harvest in my 46 years as a winegrower," said Richard Sanford, owner of Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards in Santa Barbara County, which primarily produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

"We began on August 10 and we were finished by September 8."

Louis Lucas, grape grower at the Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards - also in Santa Barbara, had a similar experience. "We were done harvesting a month early. Our yields in some varieties, like Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, are unbelievably low," he said.

"Both bunch size and berry size are small. This situation is statewide, especially in the coastal regions. Everyone is questioning why.

"Many things enter into it, like the fact that we had three large crops in a row, an early fall frost, a warm winter, bad weather during flowering, irregular berry set, a lack of winter rains and no deep soil moisture. Our total production will be down about 50%.

"I do expect the 2015 vintage to be a quality one," he added.

"The quality of the 2015 vintage for California statewide is excellent," confirmed Robert Koch, president and chief executive of the Wine Institute of California.

"After three record harvests, a lighter vintage will not impact our supply of California wines for wine lovers nationwide and throughout the world."

The overall crop in California this is estimated to be nearly 3.8 million tons, with many wineries echoing Lucas's report of a significant fall in yields.

"Cabernet Sauvignon yields were down by as much as 60%. Other Bordeaux varietals are down closer to 10%," said Jeff Meier, president and director of winemaking at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines in Napa Valley.

"Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards in the mountains took the biggest hit, and in some cases there was not even enough crop load to warrant picking," Jason Robideaux, winemaker at Clos LaChance Wines in Santa Cruz, said.

"Many of the Bordelaise varieties were off yield as much as 50%," said Jon McPherson, master winemaker at the South Coast and Carter Estate wineries.

But like most of the region's winemakers, McPherson notes that low yields have been offset by a substantial upswing in quality, with the exceptionally small grape size meaning the skin-to-juice is much higher.

"While the actual yields have been low, most of the local producers find that the quality this vintage is exceptionally high," he said.

Many winemakers have noted that red varietals are looking particularly promising.

"Though there isn't a lot of it, the quality of the crop this year is exceptional," said Cameron Perry, winemaker for Groth Vineyards & Winery in Napa Valley. "All the Cabernet ferments are showing big, rich, ripe fruit in great balance with the tannins, and the colour metrics are off the chart this season."

Matt Hughes, winemaker at the Six Sigma Ranch and Winery in Lake County, agreed. "Cabernet Sauvignon is shaping up to be one of the stars of the vintage; with light, loose clusters contributing to complex and dense berries. We have high expectations," he said.

In Mendocino, Michael Fay, winemaker at Goldeneye said: "The quality and purity of the 2015 fruit is evident. The wines show the hallmarks of great Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, with equal parts lushness and beauty, mixed with rustic savory notes, and a touch of wildness."

White wines too look set for a vintage year.

"The quality of the fruit is exceptional: our Sauvignon Blancs are particularly fragrant," said Pat Henderson, Senior Winemaker at Kenwood Vineyards in Sonoma. "I couldn't be happier with how things taste."

Fears that wildfires in some regions together with a fourth year of drought in the state could adversely impact on the quality of the harvest have proved largely unfounded.

Wineries in Lake County were most at threat from the fires that swept through parts of California in the summer.

"For Lake County and Six Sigma Ranch it's easily been the most challenging harvest to date," Hughes said.

"The fires devastated the area and our community is in full recovery mode.

"Our ranch was evacuated three times, all during harvest operations, but we managed to keep things rolling and haven't had to make any changes directly related to the fires.

"One of the major concerns was the possibility of smoke taint and I'm happy to report that after talking with many other growers and winemakers, not one test result or sensory assessment have shown a perceptible level of taint."

The state-wide drought may even have improved the quality of yield.

"The drought clearly had an effect in this 2015 vintage," said Montse Reece, winemaker for Pedroncelli Winery in Sonoma County.

"The high temperatures in August and early September accelerated maturity and picking times. I'm seeing mild acids, moderate to low alcohols and intense aromatics in all our varieties.

"This is a vintage of exceptional quality."