Northern California Vintage Chart: 1984 to 2023


A cool and damp vintage that provided slightly above average yields. Reports from winemakers suggest bright acidity, lower alcohols, and elegant fruit — though more time is needed to make an accurate assessment of the wines (read more here).


Continued drought and scattered spring frost resulted in the lightest yields in California since 2011. The growing season was warm with an early September heatwave pushing temperatures into triple digits for a week straight — resulting in a compressed harvest window. Early released reds from the vintage show deeply concentrated fruit and long aging potential. Whites are variable with those picked early showing freshness and vibrancy and those that were harvested later pushing overripeness. 


The 2021 vintage is characterised by significant drought after very little winter rain and generally dry conditions. The result is both lower yields and smaller berries across all varieties. The drought conditions also led to early harvest times throughout the region. Wines made from all varieties show greater flavour concentration, natural intensity and good ageing potential.


A profoundly difficult vintage thanks to the combination of COVID-19 protocols throughout the growing season, and wildfires beginning in August and continuing through the rest of the year. Prior to the fires, fruit quality was promising thanks to a mild spring followed by a temperate summer. Producers able to harvest before the fires had good quality but many lost their wines (especially reds) to smoke impact.


Thanks to abundant rain in spring, vines were given a healthy start. The weather through the growing season was even with only moderate heat events, followed by cool and steady weather through harvest. As a result, producers had the opportunity to make wines with more natural acidity and elegance if desired.  


Rains early in the year gave vines a healthy start. Then a cool autumn allowed more prolonged ripening and delivered a vintage with slightly larger yields than 2017. The result throughout the state and across varieties is generally good-quality wines with good ageing potential.


High rainfall in winter meant vineyard work could not start until after soils had dried again later in spring. Canopies were abundant as a result, allowing a surge of early growth. A series of heat spikes in summer was followed by a large surge of heat in early September. Earlier-ripening varieties were harvested prior to the hotter weather, though Pinot Noir is hit and miss in the vintage depending on its proximity to the higher temperatures. Later-ripening varieties generally recovered. Wines can show less detail than those from 2016 or 2018.


The summer of 2016 offered even temperatures and growing conditions, followed by slightly cooler temperatures in September allowing less pressure during harvest and a good combination of elegance and structure especially in red varieties. Rain arrived in mid October creating issues for some producers focused on later-ripening varieties. For the most part there are numerous high-quality wines from 2016. And it is one of the strongest vintages for Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.


Thanks to cool weather and rains through spring, yields were down throughout California. The result was a much earlier and faster harvest period than usual. Quality as a result is varied depending on how quickly harvest teams were able to bring in fruit in relation to their ideal balance. In Lake County and Mendocino wildfires affected vineyards, further reducing the volume of wines released from the vintage in those regions.


Drought made itself felt in Napa and Sonoma, but ample ripeness led to a relatively early harvest of grapes in good condition and with plenty of flavour. There is a general sense of positivity across most regions and varieties for the potential quality of 2014 in California.


A very fine vintage on the West Coast with optimal weather conditions throughout the growing season. The second high-quality bumper crop in a row. Wines from 2013 tend to have a strong structural presence and are both profoundly long-ageing as well as often needing more time in bottle before being ready to enjoy.


The 2012 harvest came earlier than normal, and especially after the later 2010 and 2011 vintages. Yields were also higher than normal. Growing conditions through the vintage were relatively even. The vintage was seen as a relief after the challenging prior two vintages. Wines tend to have lighter structural presence with pretty aromas and fruit but less structure for ageing.


Miserable conditions made for a very challenging harvest, with mildew and botrytis rife in Napa and Sonoma. Volumes are therefore low for the second consecutive year, with the best quality found only where growers managed to pick ripe fruit before the rainstorms in October. However, for those producers who managed their farming well and avoided overworking their wines in the cellar, the ageing potential is quite high and quality good.


A very cool start to the season, then sudden heat in August followed by torrential rain. The net result is greatly reduced yields, but some very good quality wines in a more restrained, higher acidity and lower alcohol style than the Californian norm.


Good initial impressions of the fruit, with widespread reports of awesomeness, according to the winemakers, despite a very rainy end to the growing season giving rot problems to many.


Sonoma’s earliest harvest, and very early throughout northern California. Fires in Mendocino affected red wines in the region and as far south as northern Napa Valley. It was one of the first vintages forcing producers to face the realities of smoke impact in California.


Harvest began early, mid August in the warmer regions, then a cool September slowed ripening to a crawl, allowing physiological maturity to catch up with sugars. October warmed up, and most had their grapes in before late-October rains. Elegant, balanced wines. Yields down 15 to 25%.


An unusually cool, wet growing season forced growers to drop substantial quantities of rotten fruit and pushed the harvest back to November. Far from a banner year, though the fruits of strict selection may surprise us.


The first of two cool, damp vintages, although sugars accumulated at an even pace, and there is some restraint and good acidity in the wines. Red wines have aged well as a result.


A switchback vintage with a particularly cool spring and an unusually hot summer leading to an exceptionally early harvest. Very heterogeneous.


Rushed vintage as everything ripened at the same time after heat spikes followed rain and a cool May. Reduced crop.


Summer started cool and continued very dry – quite exceptionally dry – so that the ripening process simply stopped and growers had to bite their nails through September waiting for anything like ideal ripeness. As in Europe, a difficult vintage, but for very different reasons.


A respite for growers plagued by unusual conditions in both 2000 and 2002 with most varieties ripening evenly when expected, although some Cabernet vines shut down in August. A coolish September was a boon. Red wines from the 2001 vintage are among the longest-lived of the decade in both Napa Valley and Sonoma County.


Long, late, 'European' vintage thanks to an unusually cool, wet summer. There were very real concerns that Cabernet Sauvignon would never ripen in some vineyards. A particularly good year for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.


Very late, dry, cool growing season which depended crucially on ripeness being boosted by a late September heatwave. A late rush resulted in many varieties ripening simultaneously leading to a short, extremely pressurised harvest. Some luscious Cabernets were made as a result of the relatively new preoccupation with extended 'hang time'. The cooler temperatures earlier in the season mean red wines have good structure even if also riper flavours, and so tend to age well as a result.


The cliffhanger vintage that was as late as 1997 was early as a result of cooler temperatures during the growing season. After the warmer, lusher previous vintages, wines from 1998 were considered lighter-bodied when they were first released but many have proven to be wines of elegance and longevity in bottle.


Early, generous harvest of widely admired wines with all varieties ripening at once. To drink now. The riper, lusher character of the 1997 vintage means wines tended to be very well received upon first release but have proven less complex and ageworthy with time in bottle compared with the 1998, 1999 and 2001 vintages


Small crop of relatively lightweight wines, most of which should probably have been drunk.


Yet another region in which a warm, dry autumn and late harvest saved the day after a difficult growing season. Reds, especially Zinfandels, may be even better than 1991. Small quantities pushed up prices, however.


Generally compared to 1991, the slow ripening benefited the reds especially.


Erratic growing conditions reduced eventual yields. A mixed bag.


Plenty of good reds and whites, with Merlot, then increasingly fashionable, a highlight.


A long growing season reflected in unusually fragrant, complex wines, with Zinfandel strong.


A modest-sized crop, the top Cabernets and Chardonnays rivalled 1985.


After autumn rains, poorly drained sites suffered, and many picked too early. Variable, especially the whites.


A cooler summer yielded light, charming, early-maturing wines.


A mixed year, but marvellous Zinfandels and Cabernets.


Only slightly inferior to 1985 and successful for all varieties.


Outstanding: elegant and stylish with the balance to age well.


A very hot year, the whites faded long ago but you can still find the odd lovely decadent red.