While Europe suffered from frost and hail, northern California experienced very heavy rainfall in autumn 2016. While that partially relieved the extended drought status of the region, it also caused some flood damage. Cooler than normal temperatures in August allowed for a steady, gradual ripening, which has produced wines of very good complexity, and higher-than-average natural acidity.
In common with much of Europe, the harvest started early in California – as early as July for some growers of sparkling wine. Yields are almost universally down on 2014. Huge wildfires proved a challenge for many, causing damage to vineyards and property as well as threatening smoke taint, especially in Lake County.
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.
A banner year, providing a useful exception to the short crops experienced so widely elsewhere. Ideal growing conditions seem likely to have produced the best vintage for decades. Virtually all varieties seem to have thrived. Quality with quantity at last.
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 only found where growers managed to pick ripe fruit before the rainstorms in October.
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.
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.
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.
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 cliffhanger vintage that was as late as 1997 was early. Wines tend to lack stuffing, although some Cabernets took on surprising charm after 10 years in bottle.
Early, generous harvest of widely admired wines with all varieties ripening at once. To drink now.
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.