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California hails ‘excellent’ 2014 vintage

Despite a devastating earthquake, severe drought and wild fires, Californian vintners are hailing the 2014 harvest as one of the best ever seen, calling it the “third great vintage of the decade”.

California

This declaration comes following a year that saw the region rocked by an earthquake in late August causing £80 million worth of damage, just as the year’s crush was getting underway, tackle a number of wild fires which swept perilously close to some vineyards, notably in the Sierra Nevada foothills and Napa regions, and battle continued severe drought.

However despite significant challenges, vintners are confident that 2014 will be one of the best vintages of the decade.

A mild winter and spring caused early bud break, making it one of the earliest harvests on record, however moderate temperatures, with only minimal rain in September, allowed for even ripening, according to the Californian Wine Institute.

Following 2013’s record high crop, the United States Department of Agriculture is predicting that this year’s crop will come in at 3.9 million tonnes, down 8%, but still making 2014 the third largest on record.

Corey Beck, president and director of winemaking at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, went so far as to say that the 2014 was the best vintage he had ever seen in 17 years working at the winery.
“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.”

Renee Ary, winemaker at Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa Valley, praised winemakers for overcoming such adversity adding that the 2014 vintage would 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,” she said.

Scroll through to see the outlook on the 2014 vintage from winemakers across California…

LODI

Lodi: a solution for California's mid-price gap in the UK?
Lodi: California

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.”

LAKE COUNTY

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.

LIVERMORE

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.”

MENDOCINO

Vineyard_in_Anderson_Valley
Mendocino vineyard in Anderson Valley

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.”

MONTEREY COUNTY

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 for an outstanding vintage.”

Paul Clifton, director of winemaking/GM, Hahn Estate

“A perfect spring and early bud break/veraison coupled with the typical daytime temperatures and accompanying winds has led to another incredible harvest for Monterey and the Santa Lucia Highlands. The warmer than normal temperatures of the Pacific Ocean/Monterey Bay led to warmer night time temps causing slightly lower than normal acids and earlier ripening. Many of us in the Monterey area don’t typically wrap up harvest until the last week of October or first week of November. This year, it is looking more like mid-October to finish. The quality of Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco tastes good to excellent. Chardonnay is on target.”

NAPA VALLEY

Napa Vineyard at Sunset, California
Napa Vineyard at Sunset, California

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 flavors, woven together with elegant, supple tannins.”

Jean Hoefliger, winemaker and general manager, Alpha Omega Winery

“For the third vintage in a row, Napa Valley has experienced another fantastic vintage, reminiscent of the 80s in Bordeaux when they called it, “The Three Glorious Vintages.” 2014 had an average temperature lower than 2013 without weather threats, and also had a very early year which allowed winemakers to pick based upon their will. We are seeing high acidity coupled with a beautiful, ripe vintage, which gives an amazing balance to a concentrated wine. Winemakers have the opportunity to maximize what should be an outstanding vintage.”

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.”

MADERA

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%.”

SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS

Anthony Craig, winemaker, Savannah Chanelle Vineyards

“The early 2014 harvest in the Santa Cruz Mountains has yielded exceptional quality—from aromatics and flavors, to color and tannin. The warmer than usual nights in mid- to late August did result with lower acidity in some varietals. Everything about this vintage happened early, from bud break to harvest, but those who might be concerned about hang time for maturity reasons, should not fret too much, as the duration from veraison to harvest was the same as past years.

“We had about half of our usual annual rainfall immediately prior to bud-break, so the drought did not affect us too much, especially those who are able to irrigate later in the season. Dry-farmed fruit, however, resulted in a plus/minus 30 percent reduction in tons/acre.”

SIERRA FOOTHILLS

Sierra Nevada
Sierra Nevada

Chris Leamy, winemaker, Terra d’Oro and Montevina, Amador

“We have slightly lower yields than last year, especially in older or dry-farmed pieces. The quality is excellent, with everything coming in a bit early.”

Stewart Perry, owner/winemaker, Fawnridge Winery, Placer County

“Harvest in the Sierra Foothills went well for most wineries this year. There was an early harvest for some varietals and a smaller than anticipated yield for some growers, as the climate presented challenges with temperatures and water availability. Some foothill wineries are still harvesting grapes that struggled to make targeted sugar levels and are only now pressing these later arrivals. The wines produced have offered good quality flavors and 2014 was considered successful for winemakers. Although there were fewer grapes harvested, this made for some great wines that are sure to be well received upon release later on.”

Steve Millier, owner/winemaker, Milliaire Winery, Calaveras County

“The third year of drought and the driest year on record was coupled with an early bud break and a hotter than normal summer. This resulted in a mixture of every condition: a harvest that started a little early, with some varieties picking out short and others with normal yields. Overall the harvest finished sooner than normal, but with very good quality.”

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 ripeness and maturity.”

Mike Sinor, director of winemaking, Ancient Peaks

“The 2014 vintage is pretty exciting. The fruit is looking really good, and we’re seeing great fruit intensity in the fermenters. There isn’t much water or plumpness in the grapes this year. The tragic reality is that we’ve had so little rain here on the Central Coast, but the silver lining is that the grapes have a high skin-to-juice ratio. This results in more fruit intensity, and that’s going to make the wines taste really good.”

SONOMA COUNTY

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain AVA


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.”

Dan Goldfield, Co-owner/winemaker, Dutton Goldfield

“The 2014 harvest has provided some of the best quality fruit I have ever seen in Russian River Valley! Our west county grapevines love the drought as it promotes fruit ripening, and our best fruit came from older, dry-farmed vineyards in Green Valley in the Russian River Valley appellation. In our Pinot Noir vineyards, we had perfectly ripe clusters, making the quality of the Pinot Noir vintage as good as I’ve ever experienced.

“We had an early harvest because the dry winter moved everything forward. Consequently, the vines were truly healthy right to the end of the ripening season. The Pinot Noir wines are consistently as rich, dark and balanced as I’ve seen. I’d probably have to go back to 1994 for a Pinot vintage that was this impressive. This was an early, relatively short, spectacular harvest.”

Ted Seghesio, winemaker, Seghesio Family Vineyards

“Following a dry summer, where warm days and cool nights helped to gradually ripen the fruit, harvest began on August 25 with Pinot Grigio. The nights stayed cool—low 50s—and the crop was smaller than the previous two vintages, particularly Zinfandel, whose clusters failed to develop properly due to berry shatter. Having enough tank space was key, as much of the fruit was ripe at the same time. We like the quality we are seeing; some lots were lacking in acidity, but overall, minimal raisining, evenly ripened fruit, good color and lots of dark fruit show promise.”

SANTA BARBARA

Clarissa Nagy, winemaker, Riverbench Vineyard and Winery

“Harvest 2014 came early as expected—our earliest in history! We started picking sparkling at Riverbench on August 7. Once the fruit started coming in, it kept coming. The majority of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Santa Maria Valley was harvested by the end of August. I’ve been working in Santa Barbara County since 1996, and this is the earliest harvest I have seen yet. Quality has been very high with small berries leading to very concentrated flavors. Quantity in general in Santa Barbara County has been high as well. Overall, I am very pleased with what I see for vintage 2014.”

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA/TEMECULA

David Vergari, winemaker, Thornton Winery

“The 2014 vintage started earlier than usual. Grapes for sparkling wine were picked before the end of July. Early-ripening varieties came in two to three weeks ahead of time. The reason: a mild winter did not allow vines to become truly dormant, thus, bud break occurred earlier (this was in keeping with other AVAs in Southern California). Later grape picks were more in line with those from previous harvests.”

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