Rain at harvest time helped grapes stressed by drought
With vines pruned for a low crop in anticipation of a second drought year, winemakers made better balanced wines with some elegance. With most vines carrying a small crop, vineyards went through the warm, occasionally hot summer weeks in reasonably good shape. Irrigation was widely practiced to avoid over-stressing vines. By the time most of the Merlot was safely in the cellars, the North Coast experienced several light rain showers which in retrospect proved beneficial to the small, dehydrated fruit. As a result of this harvest rain, Cabernet was revived and over the next ten days to two week the berries returned to abetter balance of juice to skins and softer skins. Many of the finest wines were made from vineyards picked in late October. Overall, the successes displayed good varietal character and were capable of medium(10 years) to long- term aging.
In such a uniformly warm year, wines from Santa Cruz Mountains and Sonoma challenged Napa’s best names. Sub-regions remain fuzzy at this time as most Napa wineries are making Cabernet from vineyards located in several climatic zones and labeling the blend “Napa Valley.” Sonoma’s Alexander Valley and Sonoma Valley both come on strong with Cabernets from new producers.
Heitz (Martha’s and Bella Oaks), Beringer Private Reserve, Copalite, Ridge Monte Bello, Mount Eden, Phelps, Beaulieu, Freeware Abbey, Stag’s Leap, Robert Mondavi Reserve, and Diamond Creek are best among the established marks. Silver Oak, Chateau St. Jean Clos du Bois rank among Sonoma’s best. A decade later, Joseph Phelps’ Cabernets (Napa Valley and Insignia) have evolved beautifully and have joined the short lists of hits. Except for those in magnums or larger bottles, most ’77s are risky today.