Wine lovers around the world will be very pleased with the 2015 vintage from California and Bordeaux. It does not happen often that the more difficult growing season occurred in California, but that was the case in 2015 with both regions reporting outstanding quality. Below are the candid comments from my friends, the winemakers and growers that lived thru the entire vintage and we will start in California.
Mike Lamborn from Lamborn Family reports from Howell Mountain 1600 feet above the Napa Valley floor: Howdy Ralph. I call 2015 a "quirky" growing year. Early bud break, cool LONG bloom, and fruit set was awful (75% loss for some) for many. We were off 10-15% tonnage wise with the Zinfandel, but the Cabernet Sauvignon had no shatter and was average in tonnage.
From a growers perspective the fruit was good, however it's the chemistry which will matter in the final analysis. Heidi (Barrett) should have some input for me by mid-November.
I think & hope it will be a fine vintage. Some are using the "low yield = high quality" mantra which I don't exactly buy into. Irrigation demands were higher this year...good for PG&E, not me.
Mike Kumillis Winemaker at Mantra Vineyards in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma: EARLY ! Harvest finished on September 24th. Earliest harvest for us since we started growing grapes in 1978… Very small yields, down 30-50%. Quality looks good so far.
Craig Becker Napa Valley Winemaker at Somerston, Priest Ranch and Kelleher Family wines is a man of few words, or one word in this case: Survived!
Erik Miller Owner-Winemaker at Kokomo Winery in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma had a very special harvest! I knew it would be an interesting year as my wife and I were expecting our second son right in the middle of harvest, Oden Miller was born Sept 17th. Luckily it turned out we had gotten in the majority of our fruit by that time, with only Cabernet Sauvignon remaining. The final months of the 2015 vintage were very up and down in temperature swings. The week of September 7th we saw 100+ degree temperatures for 5 consecutive days only to have it rain on the following week, which was actually a blessing. Sugars had spiked with the intense heat and although we had some good hang time there was, of course, dehydration and raisining going on in the vineyard. The rain helped to rehydrate the berries and sugars went back 1-2 full brix.
Overall I would call the 2015 vintage a success. Sugars were high but acids were generally high as well and the colors have been intense. The tannins seem big so far, although it is still early, and the crop size was definitely down about 30% from the previous vintages. Every vintage has its challenges and victories and 2015 will certainly be a vintage I will never forget!
Randy Peters is a third generation grape grower in the Dry Creek Valley:Ralph, This year’s vintage was excellent. We finished the earliest ever on 10-2-2015, the hang time for the grapes was normal because the vine pushed buds in late February instead of late march. The crop was about 20% lighter than normal giving us a little juice correction after 3 years of heavier than normal crops. The main reason the crop was lighter was the shatter [when grape berries don't set on the bunch] from the record setting cool spring from the last week of April to the 1st week of June. They just didn't pollinate that well. The berries were also smaller giving us a better juice to berry ratio so the wines were more easily concentrated and complex. The weather during harvest was warm so it brought the grapes on together once we started harvesting we didn't have any down time until we finished with the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Everyone is smiling in Bordeaux where the excitement is hard to conceal! As most of you know great vintages in Bordeaux are not the norm and that is why they are so heavily celebrated and 2015 looks to be outstanding! Sean Allison is the owner and manages the vineyard at Ch. L’Avocat in Cerons reports to me that …
The vintage started with a great flowering ensuring the best volume crop (if the weather held up and it did) in 4-5 years and maybe the most since 2000. Prolific drought conditions in June and July produced small berries with very thick skins. August produced just what the vines needed between more warm temperatures; rain and it rained heavily 3-4 times in August, this gave the vines the boost and refreshment they needed and there was no water stress as the ground just soaked it all up and the thick skins had no adversity handling the rain.
In September from the 12-19th there were some fast moving storms and some localized heavy showers followed by bright sunshine and brisk winds one to two hours later. Clean cool nights were also the norm retaining acidity and freshness. Sean just returned from visits at Ch. Dufort Vivens, Lynch Bages, Pichon Baron and Canon and everyone is just thrilled and feel the rains were not a big deal at all as it didn’t cut short maturity, the thick shins just brushed it off, and you could work around it. There was no pressure what so ever to pick and everything came in perfectly clean, making deeply colored and full of tannins. Sean added that even after harvesting the vines still look amazing.
In my opinion the barometer of a truly great vintage in BDX is the high quality of the wine from the Petite Chateux to the top classified growths and it looks like this will be the case. He also has friends in every wine region in France and they all report the same ecstatic feeling about the 2015 vintage, so we have a lot to look forward to down the road.Cheers! Ralph Sandst the same ecstatic feeling about the 2015 vintage, so we have a lot to look forward to down the road.
Cheers! Ralph Sands
Prime Cellar Consultant