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Napa Valley Trilogy: 2014, 2015 2016

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201611/182106.html">Napa 201611/243155.html">Valley Trilogy: 2014, 2015 & 2016-Part 1

BY ANTONIO GALLONI | DECEMBER 29, 2016 

Napa Valley delivered another exceptional vintage in 2014. The wines are bright, energetic and focused, with tons of character and pedigree. Even better, the 2014s will be easier to drink young than the 2013s that preceded them. This article focuses on the bottled 2014s, although I tasted many 2015s and some 2016s as well.

Tasting Mark Carter’s 2014s, with a preview of 2016

Napa Valley Trilogy: 2014, 2015 2016

2014 – The Earthquake Vintage

Two thousand fourteen was the third vintage in a drought cycle. The warm, dry winter caused the vines to awaken very early. When I visited growers in April of that year, they were surprised by what was shaping up to be another generous crop. The vine is a naturally self-regulating plant. In most cases, after a generous harvest or two, the plant responds by setting a lower crop. But that was not the case at all in 2014. Mother Nature gave Napa Valley growers another bountiful harvest. Warm and dry conditions persisted throughout the entire year, but, importantly, there were no heat spikes (as was the case in 2015) or sudden temperature swings like those Napa Valley experienced in 2010. Overall, 2014 saw a benign growing season with an early start and early finish and no real shocks. One of the most interesting aspects to 2014 is that the grapes ripened while maintaining excellent acidity.

Napa Valley Trilogy: 2014, 2015 2016


Multimedia: Revisit the 2014 Harvest

On August 24, just as harvest was getting started, a violent earthquake shook Napa Valley. The epicenter was American Canyon, far away from most vineyards, but where many wineries store dry goods. The city of Napa was hit hard and aftershocks were felt throughout the valley. A number of homes and other buildings were seriously damaged. Miraculously, there was not a single fatality. If the earthquake had taken place during the day, there would certainly have been a serious loss of life, especially at wineries where barrels are stacked five or six high. A number of wineries sustained damage to their inventory of bottled wines, while others lost wines in barrel, most of it from the 2013 vintage.

One of the most interesting aspects of the 2014 vintage is that earth movement created by the August earthquake caused dry streams and creeks to run again, which gave the vines in some spots much needed water. A number of producers reported that canopies looked their most vibrant at the end of the growing season, which is a significant anomaly, to say the least.


Black Sears Vineyard, Howell Mountain

The wines did not extract easily, so many winemakers gave their 2014s more time on the skins than they did in 2013, a year in which extractions were very easy. In general, the 2014s are bright, savory and vibrant, but with distinctly mid-weight structures. Like the 2013s, the 2014s tend towards the darker end of the flavor spectrum, but they don’t have the extract, size and sheer tannic clout of the 2013s. Today, 2014 comes across as a more accessible and friendly version of 2013. There is no question 2014 is a very high quality vintage, and while it does not match the epic quality of 2013, 2014 is without question a more successful and interesting vintage than the massively overhyped 2012 and inconsistent 2015. At the best estates there is very little, if any, real qualitative drop off between 2013 and 2014, even if stylistically, the vintages are quite different. Lastly, I noticed many 2014s shut down hard after bottling to an extent I have not seen previously during the six years I have been tasting bottled wines around the same time of year. In other words, many 2014s were even more expressive just before bottling than just after. Readers might want to revisit my initial assessment of the wines, published in June 2015. In addition, we shot quite a bit of video throughout the year.


A typical grape bunch in 2015 with severe dehydration

2015: Thrilling at the Top, But Uneven Across the Board

Two thousand fifteen will go down as one of the most interesting vintages in recent history. The drought cycle that started in 2012 continued into 2015, with another warm, dry winter and a very early start to the vegetative cycle. Cool weather in May caused an uneven set, which meant that even within the same plant some bunches ripened at a faster pace than others. Summer was brutally hot, with long stretches of elevated temperatures and numerous heat spikes. 

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