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1994 vintage guide for California Merlot

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Low yields, but many North Coast Merlots were very good

Weather Conditions

A long cool spring and a long cool summer contributed to a late harvest that stretched into early November. Mid-May rains hindered flowering and berry set, and both berry and cluster sizes were small throughout the North Coast. Two weeks of warm weather in August put Cabernet back on track. Rains in September caused slight problems in the Central Coast and in Mendocino. Napa and Sonoma escaped relatively unharmed. The slow maturation of the Cabernet berries enabled the tannins, aromas, and color to reach maturity simultaneously with acidity and sugar. It was one of the longest growing season in the Alexander Valley.

Best Appellations

Napa wins out on the strength of its overwhelming number of two star or higher successes, but Alexander Valley proves it belongs in the same league for both Cabernet and in this vintage, for Merlot as well. It was one of those years when most appellations fared well. Though telling one mountain appellation Cabernet from another was difficult, wines from the Stags Leap District carried the regional mantle quite well. The richest, deepest, and most distinctive Cabernets came from the middle Napa Valley, the Rutherford-Oakville where many prime vineyards are to be found.

Best Producers

This was a watershed for Merlot as a number of high quality versions appeared. The field is being competitive as newcomers join the excitement. Thee ’94 Matanzas Creek is a real powerhouse, built to age well. The biggest Merlot award goes to Beringer’s Howell Mountain. Havens is gaining fame with its brightly fruity, but large scale Carneros-grown Merlot. Other leaders in this vintage are Whitehall Lane (Reserve), Pine Ridge (Carneros), Cafaro, Fisher, Arrowood, Matanzas Creek, Forman, Paradigm, Merryvale, and Pride Mountain.

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