The 1996 vintage started off with a warm spring and early bud break, but uncharacteristic rain in May caused problems with flowering and shatter, reducing the size of the crop by as much as 20-30% in some vineyards. A relatively hot summer followed, with several intense heat waves that pushed ripening ahead, but left the fruit in an uneven state of ripeness. Green harvesting, canopy management, and careful selection allowed growers to sort out the troublesome bunches, and those who meticulously worked their vineyards, as always, made the best wines. During the summer heat spikes, many vineyards suffered in the hot, dry conditions, and as harvest approached, some were pushed to pick early as sugars raced off and acids dropped.
Fortunately, a dry and mild September prolonged hang-time and allowed slow, steady, even-handed ripening, and the Indian summer conditions continued until after the harvest and into November. Those who made it through the late summer heat were able to take advantage of the fine conditions that followed, picking grapes at optimum maturity. The result is a somewhat variable vintage, with some good to very good wines that lack the stuffing to be great, and others that are excellent, with beautiful ripeness, structure, and depth.
In 1981, after years of research, lab work and avoiding the border authorities, Jayson Pahlmeyer planted his smuggled Bordeaux clones in Napa Valley. In 1986 he released the first Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red to critical acclaim, and he's been on the way up ever since. Pahlmeyer is an ambitious guy who thrives in the spotlight -- he was once a trial lawyer -- but he also has a phenomenal knack for spotting talent. Over the years he has consistently nabbed up-and-coming winemakers who have made the label what it is today. The list, which includes Randy Dunn, Bob Levy, Helen Turley and Erin Green, now has two new names to round it out: Kale Anderson, director of winemaking for Napa Valley, and Bibiana GonzÕlez Rave, consulting winemaker for the Sonoma Coast holdings. Each winemaker is in charge of one of the estate's two main vineyards. The first, the Waters Ranch Vineyard, located on the ridge of Atlas Peak, high in the eastern hills of Napa, has 72-acres planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Chardonnay. The Wayfarer Farm Vineyard in Fort Ross-Seaview, covers 30-acres planted exclusively to Burgundy varietals, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Fruit from the Waters Ranch Vineyard goes into the noteworthy Proprietary Red, a consistently strong Bordeaux blend, and the flamboyantly ripe and often outsized Merlot.