The 2015 Vintage in California will not soon be forgotten!

October 1, 2015

(Photo from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat)


As I reported in this column in July, the 2015 vintage in California has indeed turned out to be hot year with an early harvest and lighter than average production.  Warm to hot weather vintages in California are pretty much the norm producing the style of wines that have made Napa and Sonoma famous; wines with flamboyant ripe fruit and silky textures but just not as much of them in 2015.

Unfortunately 2015 will be a sadly remembered year by the thousands of people tragically affected by the Valley Fire that came so dangerously close to northeastern Napa Valley. The Valley Fire is the third largest fire in the history of California burning over 76,000 acres of land and destroying over 2000 homes and structures while causing 4 deaths.

The wine regions ravaged by the fires and devastation are not your world famous, expensive brands of wines found in Napa Valley. Most tourist know highway 29 in Napa that takes you up the left side of the valley moving north, thru Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena eventually  leading you to a left hand turn at the top of the valley in Calistoga and right down Main Street. This is where 98% of tourist stops on highway 29. If you continued north on 29 and wiggled your way over Mt. St. Helena you would arrive in the Lake County wine region and the towns of Middletown, Hidden Valley Lake and the mountain community of Cobb. This is a really what you would call “out in the countryside” and has the feel of the “old wild west”. This is a real down to earth, close farming community and up and coming wine area, with 35 mostly small family wineries and vineyards. The owners of Shed Horn Cellars lost their home and winery but the tasting room survived; at Langtry Estate 1000 acres were damaged. If you see wines with the Lake County appellation on them, this would be a great time to try one out and support the fine people of this wine region.

The Napa Valley was indeed spared, but the fire got very close!  When I heard that the fire had spread to the Pope Valley I immediately thought of my friends The Lamborns, whose vineyard at the tip top of Howell Mountain overlooks the Pope Valley some 1600 feet below.  Right away I sent my buddy Mike Lamborn an email saying “how you doing up there, you must have a good view of the fires” Mike’s answer was this…on 9-15


View heck....we were evacuated ( Mandatory ) at 1am on Sunday morning. By Sunday night it looked as if we would lose the house. During the night the winds switched ( favorably ) and by yesterday morning the fire had slowed it's progress in our direction, and the smoke was gone.  This morning all evacuation orders had been lifted for our neighborhood.


I don't think we are out of the woods quite yet, but I am feeling guardedly optimistic.  Matt & Lori moved back in yesterday so they are feeling confident.   We picked Zin last Saturday ( the day the fire started ). Yield was a bit low ( 10 tons ) due to shatter.  The Cab is doing well and we should start picking it by weeks end.  I had the berries tested yesterday ( ETS Labs ) for Smoke Taint, and we passed with flying colors ( dodged another bullet ).


That is great news for PrimeCellar and the Lamborn Family.

The final Cabernet Sauvignons will be picked in the next week as I will have a full report on the end of the 2015 harvest next month.


Cheers and warm regards from San Francisco


Ralph Sands

Prime Cellar Consultant

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