California 2015 – early, small and distinctive

California 2015 – early, small and distinctive

California 2015 – early, small and distinctive

Sonoma Mountain CabernetAs I travelled across California this summer and autumn a few things proved consistent. Most vineyards – whether hillside or valley floor, North Coast, southern portions of the state or further inland – exhibited reduced yields via either smaller clusters, berry shatter or millerandage, and harvest came early. A warm winter followed by a chilly spring meant fruit set suffered. Reduced fruit set (this picture shows Cabernet clusters on Sonoma Mountain) and smaller berry size led to significantly smaller yields than usual, as well as greater concentration of colour, acidity, tannin and flavour. Weather conditions across the state, as well as California’s fourth successive drought year, created these common themes for America’s largest wine-producing state.

However, wine quality in a year such as 2015 will be highly dependent on the health of the vineyard. In regions with higher portions of shatter and shot berries, producer’s propensity to sort to avoid sharp acidity and bitter flavours will also be an important factor. When it comes to the release of California’s 2015 wines, we can expect to see a significant drop in single-vineyard bottlings, and in the boutique rosés from California that have been so popular these last three years. While we should expect much smaller volume in fine-wine sales specifically for the 2015 vintage, there will be little impact on the number of bottles of California wine available overall since before 2015 California experienced three good-quality, high-volume years in a row. As a result, many producers are still loaded with stock from 2012, 2013 and 2014. While fine-wine enthusiasts will have to work harder to secure their favourite producer’s cuvées from 2015, most consumers are unlikely to notice a drop in availability for wines from the state in general.

The role of drought in the quality of 2015 wines

As the drought continues, farming decisions have become progressively more important to wine quality, even in vineyards reliant on irrigation. The 2015 growing season was marked by temperature variability throughout. That combined with the drought meant that continual attention to the vineyard proved especially important. Along with increased vineyard attention has come a need for farming decisions made increasingly vine-by-vine. Brook Williams owns and farms Duvarita Vineyard just west of the Sta Rita Hills and Santa Ynez Valley appellations in Santa Barbara County. As Williams explains, ‘We were more aggressive with pruning in February since it had already been a very dry winter. …

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