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1978 vintage guide for California Merlot

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A long vintage with high yields of very ripe grapes

Weather Conditions

An odd wet spring created concern about early botrytis, but the wished-for warm weather followed bloom. From then on is was a classic even ripening season with a heat-wave arriving just before the harvest begins. Harvesting was frantic, and some grapes became over-ripe. But the crop size was large enough to make up for two drought years. The Cabernets are large-scale, occasionally with excessive alcohol. The best are ripe, concentrated, with firming acids and plenty of tannin that have assisted them through two decades. Though all have reached a peak, a surprising number are still in good shape today.

Best Appellations

Napa Cabernet was solid, with only a few over-zealous winemakers making unbalanced, tannic monsters. Sonoma Valley enjoyed similar weather and similar good fortune in 78, with Kenwood’s Artist Series, Silver Oak, and St. Jean emerging as Sonoma County’s leaders. Over the first ten to fifteen years, the ’78s aged well in general. As aging continued, the 78’s focused attention on the cooler Stags Leap District which turned out several successes and long-agers in this otherwise warm vintage.

Best Producers

The best Cabernets over the first decade were Caymus, Beringer Private Reserve, Mondavi, Stag’s Leap, Phelps, Beaulieu, Silver Oak, Montelena, Shafer Hillside, Clos du Val Reserve, Kenwood, Ridge Monte Bello. Under good to ideal storage conditions, they should be well into or just passed their peak plateau. Today, those still in their prime are Montelena, Mondavi Reserve, Caymus, Phelps Insignia, Shafer, and Beaulieu Private Reserve. Though more on a bottle to bottle basis, Silver Oak and Clos du Val Reserve are worth checking out.

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