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California & North America 2016 harvest report

Read Amanda Barnes' early round-up of the 2016 wine harvests in key regions across North America.

North America’s 2016 vintage saw advanced harvests across the board, with some of the earliest picking dates on record. Despite the early start many regions experienced cooler ripening periods, and drought was less of a defining characteristic than last year.


new california wine trends

The California grape harvest. Credit: Wine Institute of California

A warm spring jump-started the Californian season up to a month early, similar to 2015. June was hotter than normal and July looked to follow suit until temperatures peaked mid month, cooling off into August. The temperature drop was especially felt in Napa and Sonoma where locals coin the month ‘Fogust’ due to heavy marine fog.

‘This was my 40th harvest as a Napa winemaker and I can honestly say, one of the easiest with a very steady relaxed pace,’ says winemaker Robert Foley.

‘August was unusually cool this year, a month where heat spikes are common. So fruit softened and ripened under slow steady conditions without dehydration and premature sugar accumulation.’

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Consultant viticulturist and Napa winemaker Steve Matthiasson says that although varieties like old vine Zinfandel struggled with the ongoing drought, the milder climate this year alleviated some pressure.

‘We are still dealing with the drought, but overall it was a forgiving year with a moderate sized crop. Both reds and whites were exceptional, all around it was a great year.’

Sonoma also experienced a promising vintage, according to most. ‘The grapes ripened at a steady pace,’ says Rodney Strong winemaker Justin Seidenfeld. ‘This allowed us to pick at optimal maturity without feeling rushed by outside influences like weather and tank space.

‘The Cabernet and other Bordeaux varietals are showing great structure and tannin profile as well as intense colour and flavours.’

The rest of California also had a bumper harvest, and the main challenge this year was keeping on top of vine vigour.

‘Vintage was abundant; vineyards that had appropriate crop levels appear to be of very high quality,’ says Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm, who sources fruit from Central Coast.

‘We did see a slightly higher level of acidity compared to other vintages in grapes from virtually all regions. I think the wines will generally be less generous in their youth, but potentially capable of longer ageing.’

Pacific Northwest: Oregon, Washington, British Columbia

oregon harvest 2016, pinot meunier

Pinot Meunier grapes in Oregon. Credit: Amanda Barnes / www.80harvests.com

Oregonians saw one of the earliest, and longest, picks on record: ‘Growers got to choose when they picked, rather than the weather choosing,’ says Jason Lett, Eyrie Vineyards winemaker.

‘Expect a wide range of expression from the vintage, from winemaker to winemaker. One thing that is obvious at this early stage is the dark colour in the Pinot Noir. The reds are marked by darker fruits, light to chewy tannins, and high total acidities.’

Washington experienced similar weather patterns: ‘We ended up with a long season but not a hot season, which allowed for early and even ripening,’ says consultant winemaker Co Dinn.

‘Colour is very good and natural acidity is consistent. I’m very excited about Syrah and Merlot from the vintage due to moderate growing conditions.’

Western Canada’s Okanagan, in British Columbia, also experienced an early start but cooling summer rains slowed the season down to normal, giving the valley the long harvest window it needs for its 60 plus grape varieties.

New York & Ontario

ontario 2016 harvest

Pickers bring in the harvest in in Ontario. Credit: Amanda Barnes / 80harvests.com

Across the continent, New York’s Finger Lakes had an unusual year.

‘This vintage was crazy,’ comments winemaker Chris Bates MS.

‘We saw a drought. Yields were very low, but the biggest challenge was that acids dropped faster than sugars rose. This will be a blockbuster year for some of our more sensitive varieties like Pinot Noir, which can often be held back by disease. In general, reds will excel… Colours are deep, vibrant, and the aromatics intense.’

The same summer heat characterised Ontario’s vintage with many days above 30C.

A bit of warmth was a relief after 2014’s and 2015’s severe winter death. ‘Everyone needs to rebuild their inventory because of the last two really cold years where we lost 50% of our fruit,’ explains Tom Pennachetti at Cave Spring Cellars. 2016 will be a bumper year for Bordeaux varieties.


Harvest 2016, Mexico's Baja California Peninsula

Harvest time in Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Credit: Amanda Barnes / 80harvests.com

North America’s third largest producer, Mexico, got hit at both ends of the growing season by freak weather events: a 50C heat spike in June causing 40% fruit loss, and the tail-end of a hurricane in September.

‘We had to harvest earlier than we wanted,’ says winemaker and sommelier Pedro Poncelis Jr.

‘2016’s wines won’t be as generous, but they’ll be more elegant with lower alcohols.’

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