2015 Napa Valley – First Impressions by Antonio Galloni
The 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 character.
The 2015 Growing Season
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.
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.
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.
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.
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