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1981 vintage guide for California Merlot

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A generally disappointing vintage

Weather Conditions

An early harvest was in full swing in mid-August after an intense heatwave which also reduced the crop in Napa and Sonoma. Napa’s Calistoga hit 111 F. In the shade in mid-June. Early overviews of a quick-maturing vintage were soon modified and this much misunderstood vintage eventually gave wines that age much better than expected. Napa Valley Cabernets revealed a supple texture, but with solid varietal character, and surprising balance. Although, typical of the times, even the best showed plenty of tannin in their youth.

Best Appellations

Cabernets grown on hillside vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Cruz turned out to be among the finest from this vintage. Howell Mountain, Sonoma Mountain, and Sonoma Valley had more than a normal share of successes. Santa Cruz was represented with distinction by Ridge Monte Bello.

Best Producers

Stag’s Leap, Matanzas Creek, Duckhorn, Rutherford Hill,

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