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1996 vintage guide for California Merlot

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A generally light vintage

Weather Conditions

After an odd warm winter with more than normal rainfall, a pleasant spring led to early budbreak. But the cool weather encountered intermittent rain showers in May during the critical period of flowering and set. There was a significant degree of berry shatter, and the potential crop was reduced due to a poor set. The remainder of the summer was warm, with several heat spikes speeding up veraison and eventually soon sending sugar levels high. September’s brief but dramatic cooling trend allowed the grape flavors to catch up to sugar levels. The absence of rain during the harvest allowed growers to leave the fruit on the vines for an extended period which contributed to better balanced wines. Merlot experienced considerable berry shatter. The Merlot crop was light, and the grapes achieved high sugar levels resulting in fat, big bodied wines.

Best Appellations

Early on nobody thought much of this vintage, but after two-three years it evolved into a pleasing fruit-filled year. The two star level Cabernets were far fewer than in either 94 or 95 and originated in specific sites, such as Howell Mountain and other mountain sites including Sonoma Mountain. The non-irrigated regions had an edge on lower elevation sites and valley floor locations in this vintage. Rutherford and Stags Leap District were also strong, yielding Cabernets with ripe, but regionally distinct character. Carmel Valley, though tiny, came up with a strong performance in this vintage.

Best Producers

Arrowwood, Pride Mountain, Shafer, Caffer, Beringer Howell Mountain, Frog’s Leap, Liparita, Duckhorn, Robert Pecota. Pine Ridge, Whitehall Lane, Geyser Peak Reserve.

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