Very good vintage, especially for Napa Valley Merlots which have forward black fruit flavors and refined tannins.
After several short vintages, the ’97 crop was extremely large and took the pressure off the supply demand ratio. With budbreak occurring a month early, the vineyards went into bloom with a full head of steam and came out with an early and great set and a big looking crop. Except for one hot week in August, the summer days and nights was consistent and moderate. With most vineyards reaching their maturity, light rains arrived in mid-September and a few panic-stricken winemakers hired helicopters to help dry out the huge crop weighing on the vines. Wiser vintners had cluster-thinned in August and the loose bunches of Cabernet dried out quickly. The Merlot crop was decadently large and required cluster thinning. This was also a year in which the post-phylloxera viticultural enlightened thinking in terms of vine spacing, trellis systems, vine balance, and grape maturity was firmly in place. The vintage was characterized by “a uniformity of ripeness” especially in Napa Valley where the Cabernets and Merlots were extraordinarily deep in color, forward in black fruit flavors, and refined with their mature tannins.
Given the weather conditions, Napa and its various several sub-regions were practically unbeatable in this vintage. Stags Leap District fared must as well as the Howell Mountain area, and these two held their ground against the strong showing of Oakville Rutherford. However, the Alexander Valley is well-represented by Murphy Goode, Silver Oak, Herzog and others to confirm that it too is improving with the times and can compete with Napa’s best. The favorable weather also reached the Carmel Valley where a handful of producers reminded the world it too is another serious Cabernet voice.
Duckhorn returned to top form this year as a result of its new estate vineyard coming into production. Many other favorites were relying upon the first fruit from replanted vines such as Newton, Sterling and Pahymeyer which made splendid, splashy Merlot. There were many big, over the top Merlots but with lively deep fruit such as Lewis Cellars (Reserve), Jade Mountain, Pride Mountain, Geyser Peak Reserve, Coppola, Arrowwood, Benziger Matanzas Creek, Merryvale, Kendall Jackson (Buckeye), Paradigm, St. Clement, St Francis, and St. Jean.