2015 Napa Valley – First Impressions
2015 Napa Valley Cabernets I have tasted from barrel so far are positively stunning in their beauty.
Despite a year with considerable challenges and low yields, 2015 is shaping
up to be a vintage of opulent, voluptuous wines with real personality and
The 2015 Growing
Drought conditions and higher than average temperatures during
the 2014/2015 winter caused the soils to warm up early, even more so than Napa
Valley’s growers had seen in 2013 and 2014. Cool weather in May during
flowering had some effect in lowering yields, depending on the site, but more
challenges lay ahead.
Throughout the year, temperatures were higher than normal. “In
2015 we had 26 days over 100 degrees, whereas in a normal year we might see
10-12, including a stretch of five consecutive days with temperatures of 104
degrees,” Lou Kapcsándy told me. It was a similar
story at Joseph Phelps. “We had 20 days over 100 degrees. Dehydration was a
real issue,” winemaker Ashley Hepworth reported.
Dana Estates' Helms Vineyard, Rutherford
The most critical period arrived in mid-September. I had
tastings scheduled for Monday September 14. The day before, Howell Mountain was
evacuated because of a serious threat from a raging fire in neighboring Lake
County. It was during this stretch of several days that temperatures were
unrelentingly hot. “We started picking on September 9. Temperatures were above
100 degrees for four out of the five days we picked, and on the last day we had
to deal with intense winds from the fires in Lake County.” Lisa Togni relayed. Some
producers picked in September, but more than a few also waited things out until
October, when conditions improved dramatically.
A cluster with severe
The 2015s From Barrel
I spent several weeks in Napa Valley this past spring
tasting through the 2015s from barrel. Spring is one of my favorite times to
taste in Napa Valley because it is the best time to see the wines in a finished
enough state to get a sense of the year, but before blending, which means at
many properties it is possible to taste parcel by parcel or variety by variety.
In many ways, tasting young Cabernet from barrel in Napa Valley during the spring
is much more similar to tasting young Burgundy than Bordeaux as the wines have
often not been racked or touched at all, whereas in Bordeaux, for example, the
blends need to be mostly finished by that time in order for the wines to be presentable
for en primeur.
So far, the 2015 Napa Valley Cabernets I have tasted are
stunningly beautiful. Two thousand fifteen is a classic Napa Valley vintage
built on opulence, texture and voluptuousness. Interestingly, the wines also
appear to have a good deal of freshness as well, especially for a warm year. Unfortunately, yields are down
around 30-35% across the board. Although weather during flowering was less than
optimal, growers cite dehydration as the main culprit for lower production.
To be sure, the estates I have tasted so far represent la
crème de la crème in Napa Valley. Given the quality of fruit I saw in the
field, I expect the 2015s will be less consistently brilliant across a wider
range of producers than in truly exceptional years like 2013. Still, there is
no question that there is plenty to look forward to. The best
2015s are racy, exciting wines that are hard to resist, even at this early stage.
Tasting from barrel at
2014 – Final
Impressions Before Bottling
I also tasted a number of finished 2014s that will be
bottled later this summer. The 2014s continue to develop positively.
Stylistically, the 2014s today come across as slightly smaller-scaled versions
of the 2013s, with the same shades of dark fruit and plenty of mineral/savory
overtones, but less body, tannin and overall heft. I will have a better idea of
the overall consistency of the vintage this fall, when I do my formal tastings,
but at least at the top, 2014 is another strong and potentially outstanding
vintage for Napa Valley.
Final blends of
Blankiet’s 2014s just prior to bottling
Three Winemakers to
Frederick Ammons –
Leslie Rudd owns one of the great pieces of dirt in Napa
Valley. Yet Rudd Estate has had a mixed track record over the last decade or
so. In my view, the wines have often come across as forced. Look for that to
change under the direction of Frederick Ammons, who recently came over from
Bill Harlan’s Napa Valley Reserve. One of the most hands-on winemakers in Napa
Valley, Ammons brings a refined touch, a keen palate, and an outsized passion
for the many subtleties of site to Rudd Estate. The young wines I have tasted
here of late show considerable promise.
Marc Gagnon – Bryant Family
Marc Gagnon arrived at Bryant in 2014 from Screaming Eagle,
where he was Assistant Winemaker. Right away, Gagnon’s wines have shown
remarkable finesse as well as potential. The 2015s I tasted from barrel earlier
this spring were exquisite. Gagnon is another young winemaker who is hands-on.
Every aspect of production is done on site, including bottling and shipping,
both of which are exceedingly rare to see in Napa Valley. Long-term
organizational stability has always been the Achilles heel at Bryant. Let’s
hope Bettina Bryant can continue to build on the strengths of the team that is
in place today.
Nigel Kinsman –
Formerly at Araujo and Krupp Brothers, Nigel Kinsman has
built an enviable track record over the years. Kinsman has several new projects
that are worth watching. Late last year Hong Kong investor Henry Cheng purchased
adjacent properties Reverie and Von Strasser on Diamond Mountain, plus the land
to develop the Calistoga Hills Resort, which is expected to break ground within
the next few months. The old Von Strasser parcels will be entirely ripped out
after the 2016 harvest, while much of Reverie will also be redeveloped. Kinsman
is making wine for the new owners from the Reverie parcels. I have tasted the
2015s from a barrel twice so far, and they have been impressive both times. In
particular, Cabernet Franc appears to be especially well suited to this site. The
current owners bought all the real assets but not the brands, so the name of
the new wine that will be made here is yet to be determined.
Kinsman is set to start his own label with the
2016 harvest. The first Cabernet will be from Reverie fruit, while a second
source comes online next year. Kinsman is also the winemaker for Jamie McCourt’s
new project from a site in Rutherford farmed by David Abreu. A man of many
talents, Kinsman designed Wheeler Farms, Bart and Daphne Araujo’s new custom
crush facility on Zinfandel Lane, which I am told is state-of-the-art. I would
expect nothing less.
David Abreu’s Las Posadas Vineyard, Howell Mountain
Estates Tasted: Abreu, Ampère, Blankiet, BOND, Bryant, Casa Piena, Colgin, Continuum, Dalla Valle, Dana
Estates, Futo, The Grade, Harlan Estate, Hardin, Harris, Hobel, Jones, Kapcsándy,
Kinsella, Mending Wall, Ovid, Outpost, Joseph Phelps, Piper,
Pulido-Walker, Promontory, Rivers-Marie, Round Pond, Rudd, Saunter, Screaming
Eagle, Seaver GTS, Steltzner, Staglin, Stone the Crows, TBD (formerly Reverie),
Philip Togni, VHR – Vine Hill Ranch and Wallis.
The Bryant vineyard, as shown in the forthcoming Vinous Map: The Vineyards of Pritchard Hill
You Might Also Enjoy
The Undiscovered California – 2016 Edition, Antonio Galloni, February 2016
2013 Napa Valley: Once Upon a Time in America…, Antonio Galloni, October 2015
Uncovering the Best Values in California Cabernet Sauvignon, Antonio Galloni, October 2015
2014 Napa Valley – Vintage Report, Antonio Galloni, June 2015
New Releases from Napa Valley: 2012 and 2013, Antonio Galloni, December 2014
2013 Napa Valley: A First Look…, Antonio Galloni, May 2014
The Undiscovered California – 2015 Edition, Antonio Galloni, January 2015
-- Antonio Galloni