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Napa 2023 might be ‘the vintage of a lifetime’

Despite producers beginning harvest up to a month later than usual, 2023 is looking to be “one of the greats”, according to the latest California Vintners Report.

To say that Napa winemakers are excited about the quality of the 2023 vintage “would be an understatement,” reveals The California Vintner’s Report.

A wet winter at the start of the season resulted in delayed bud break, more vegetative growth and “larger yields on the valley floor”, meaning that many vineyards had to make the difficult decision to drop excess fruit this year.

The silver lining was “exceptional quality”, with grapes from valley floor vineyards “soft, balanced and fresh with higher acids” while grapes from higher-altitude vineyards are “tiny in size with great depth of flavour, concentration and colour.”

Burgundian varieties fared especially well in Napa due to the extra time on the vine, and the freshly pressed and fermented wines are said to be typified by their “purity and elegance”.

“This is one of the coolest and latest vintages I’ve seen in the last two decades,” said Renée Ary, vice president of winemaking at Duckhorn Vineyards. “The rain was much needed and helped replenish the reservoirs and nourish the vines.”

The rain also brought extra canopy growth and at Duckhorn led to 5% to 15% higher yields for most varieties.

“The viticulture teams were diligent in thinning and doing crop adjustments where necessary,” Ary said. “This was key to achieving a balanced crop and promoting ripening in a very late year.”

She says that “hearty tannins and complex flavours” are hallmarks of Duckhorn’s Cabernet Sauvignon this year.

California dreaming

Regions across California saw this year’s rains wash away the salt in vineyard soils, allowing vines to access previously tied-up nutrients.

It was the wettest season “for 200 years” in San Luis Obispo, which gave vines water reserves to draw on throughout the growing season, resulting in less stress for the plants, though mildew pressure was high.

Despite the plentiful rain, Sonoma vintners reported “minimal flooding”. As with everywhere in California this year, the cooler temperatures led to a later start to veraison with some Sonoma wineries starting to pick immediately after they finished making their 2022 wines.

In Paso Robles, many winemakers are predicting that 2023 wines will be “lower in alcohol” due to the cool and wet season. Some producers battled cases of powdery mildew, botrytis and rot due to late-season rains, but overall winemakers are reporting higher yields and quality when compared with the 2022 vintage.

This year is “a dream vintage for acidity” for Santa Barbara producers, who saw increased Brix and decreased acid on a scale that is “rarely achievable”, according to the California Vintners Report.

The Sangiovese from Temecula looks to be especially good this year, with wines having the potential “for a more European style”.

As for Mendocino, ongoing rain led to soft-skinned varieties such as Petite Syrah and Zinfandel being damaged, though the cooler temperatures and longer ripening time is likely to produce excellent Chardonnay.


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