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Napa: long, cool 2010 promises ‘elegant’ vintage

Vintners in Napa are reporting ‘excellent quality’ across the region in reds and whites – though the season wasn't without significant challenges.

Joseph Phelps Spring Valley Ranch: ‘1991and 1985 were cooler than 2010: both were great

Across the region volumes were low, there is good colour in the must, sugars are good but not excessive, and alcohol levels will be comparatively modest.

This should mean ‘balanced, elegant wines’, as Terry Hall of Napa Valley Vintners put it.

The 2010 season was exceptionally cool and long, with some wineries leaving parcels until November. It was a year of extremes for growers, with prolonged coolness, intense heat spikes in August, and monsoon-like rainfall in late October which interrupted a much-needed Indian Summer.

Some wineries pickec before the October storms but many lost a sizeable amount of fruit, either from heat spike damage or green harvest – dropping clusters to enhance ripening in the cool temperatures. There was also the issue of uneven ripeness.

Jan Krupp of Stagecoach Vineyards on Atlas Peak said, ‘wineries that performed conscientious fruit thinning and made well-timed harvest decisions will make very good wines from a difficult vintage.’

Chris Phelps of Swanson Vineyards said, ‘Long, cool seasons are the best for quality Napa red Bordeaux varieties.’

This is borne out by Elias Fernandez at Shafer, whose fruit comes mainly from Stag’s Leap district. He expects ‘another stellar year for Shafer. Grapes had extremely thick skins that contained more tannin and color than most years. Some of the Merlots taste like Cabernet.’

As for the whites, there is a good deal of optimism. Dirk Hampton, chairman and director of winemaking at Far Niente, said, ‘It’s by far the one of the best vintages [for Chardonnay] in 30 years. There is clarity of fruit and balance of juice.’

Also optimistic are those veterans who recall cool vintages in the past. ‘Nineteen ninety-one and 1985 were cooler than 2010 and both vintages were great,’ Damian Parker at Joseph Phelps told Decanter.com.


Written by Cheryl Lincoln in San Francisco

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