California’s Best Harvest in Years Poses New Possibilities for Wine Enthusiasts
Winter is a time for sinking into your favorite chair while savoring a sip of fine California wine. And based on the latest harvest report, the future looks bright as California vintners predict that the 2021 vintage will be one of the best in recent memory. California winemakers reported outstanding quality and great concentration in the fruit, with some of the most celebrated vintners sharing encouraging news about this year’s harvest and vintage.
“The weather was excellent this year, with mild temperatures at the end of the growing season,” said Ted Henry, director of winegrowing at Groth Vineyards in Oakville, Napa Valley. “We got a little more time to mature flavors before pulling the fruit off the vine. Reds are very dark and extracted, with nice balance and freshness. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon stood out as exceptional, and whites were bright, fresh and full-flavored.” Rodney Strong Vineyards in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, said the season progressed without heat spikes or cold snaps, and the winery was able to harvest a week earlier than usual, in August. “The quality and the color of the wine, and the tannin development are some of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Justin Seidenfeld, director of winemaking. “Our Bordeaux reds are amazing. It’s going to be an off-the-charts vintage for sure.” Corey Beck, executive vice president of production and chief winemaker at Delicato Family Wines, noted that drought conditions across Napa and Sonoma County, as well as Lodi and the Central Coast, led to lower cluster weights. However, the red winegrapes boasted a fantastic concentration of flavors and color. Beck is particularly excited about the winery’s Chardonnay, which is showing vibrant flavors, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon. “Wines in the fermenters at all sites have very nice, mature flavors and good concentration,” he said. “Acids are a bit higher than typical, so the wines are very bright. The concentration and cleanness of the fruit are two pillars that make 2021 such a stand-alone harvest.”
In Livermore Valley, viticulture manager Niki Wente of Wente Vineyards—the oldest continuously operating, family-owned winery in the United States—said growing conditions in Livermore Valley were ideal overall. Strong winds during flowering caused some shatter in the reds, but whites were not affected. Though yields were down, quality increased as a result. “There’s a lot of flavor concentration and really small berries,” Wente said, particularly for Cabernet Sauvignon and red Bordeaux varieties. This will also be a solid vintage for whites. “They’re going to be really beautiful and floral.” J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines’ director of winemaking Steve Peck said that canopies and vines were a little bit smaller this year in Paso Robles because of lower rainfall, but yields came in around average, with fruit showing more structure and higher tannin levels than typical. “For people that really like that intense mouthfeel,” he said, “I think they’re going to be very pleased with 2021.” Hopland-based Fetzer Vineyards, which grows grapes all over California, began picking several weeks ahead of historical averages. John Kane, Fetzer’s vice president of winemaking and winery operations, notes that lower water availability coupled with a warm growing season meant growers had to be precise with irrigation and canopy management. Smaller berries and lower yields brought intense concentration to the wines, with notable vibrancy. “Monterey Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and bright,” Kane said, “and Cabernet Sauvignon from all over the state has great variety typicity without green characteristics.” Marty Spate, vice president of winemaking and winegrowing at O’Neill Vintners & Distillers in Parlier, Fresno County, said the season progressed without extreme heat events or impacts from wildfire smoke. Not only that, but fruit quality is excellent across the board—especially for Petite Sirah. “We source grapes from up and down the state, and the most consistent item of note this year is how good the fruit looked and tasted,” he said. “We are seeing intense levels of fruit characteristics, fine quality of tannins, and well-balanced chemistries and acidity. I can say with confidence that our 2021 vintage is shaping up to be one of the best in the past decade.” In Santa Barbara, winegrowers experienced a moderate growing season, and ideal weather during the ripening period. Tyler Thomas, winemaker at Dierberg Vineyard in Lompoc, said that wines are showing great depth of flavor at lower potential alcohol levels and higher acidity. “We are very excited about the ability to promote energy in wines with terrific depth and generosity,” said Thomas. “The Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir wines especially seem to display this quality.” With outstanding wines being produced across the state, cigar lovers will have a multitude of options from the 2021 vintage for their sipping-and-smoking pleasure. California produces about 80 %of the nation’s wine, making it the world’s fourth-largest wine producing region. Grapes are grown in 49 of the Golden State’s 58 counties, across 142 wine appellations. More than 80% of those wines are made in a Certified Sustainable California Winery and over half of the state’s 637,000 vineyard acres are certified to one of California’s sustainability programs. Along with preserving the land for future generations, many of the sustainable practices used by the state’s vintners help make the harvest and growing season run more smoothly and help increase wine quality. View Wine Institute’s full 2021 California Harvest Report, including regional reports from Amador County, El Dorado County, Lake County, Livermore Valley, Lodi, Mendocino County, Monterey County, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, San Diego County, San Luis Obispo County, Santa Barbara County, Santa Cruz Mountains, Sonoma County and Temecula Valley. To learn more about Golden State wines, wineries and regions, as well as sustainable wine practices, visit www.DiscoverCaliforniaWines.com.