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1976 vintage guide for California Cabernet Sauvignon

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The best wines have proved concentrated with ripe tannins

Weather Conditions

Dry, warm weather throughout the summer marked the official beginning of a drought. It was to last for two full years, but growers were caught off guard in 76. The vines were pruned for a normal crop, and the dry weather soon placed them under stress conditions. The berries were small and sugar levels soared by late August. Some wineries reported runaway sugar levels and overall many wines suffered from over-ripeness, hard tannins, and a lack of balance. Over the first few years the vintage seemed over-ripe but acceptable. However, shortly after its fifth year, many Cabernets began to fall apart with some turning downright ugly. Merlot was not widely planted, and what was did not survive the drought conditions well at all.

Best Appellations

The only region to stand out was the Oakville-Rutherford mid-section of Napa Valley. Of the dozen or so wines that offered both character and balance, the majority were grown here. In Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley enjoyed similar moderate success. Both the Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley failed to distinguish themselves in this hot, overripe year. At the time of this vintage Merlot was not widely planted, limited to Napa Valley and used primarily as a blending component.

Best Producers

Freemark Abbey Bosche and Ridge Monte Bello were slow to evolve, but turned out high among the leaders. The other stand-outs were Heitz, Beaulieu, Caymus, Silver Oak, Kenwood Artist Series and Robert Mondavi Reserve. The majority of 76’s were over the hill by the early 1990s.

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