An excellent vintage with deep, concentrated, well-structured wines, especially in Napa Valley. A dry winter and a warm, dry spring got things off to a quick start, but in April a bad frost (the worst in 30 years) hit Northern California hard. Fruit set was damaged and yields were clipped from the get-go.
The dry winter conditions that continued into March and April, combined with a significant heat spike in March, got the vines moving early. But the risk of frost damage hovered, and indeed a cold spell lasting up to 10 days resulted in the worst frost in 20 years, with temperatures regularly lower than 30°F in early April. In the Central Valley, a few overnight temperatures went into the mid 20°s. The result was crop size reduced by 20% in some varieties.
The cold snap was followed by the hottest May on record, and it continued with what proved to be the third hottest June on record. This kept the harvest looking like it would be on the early side, and the vines were about two to three weeks ahead of schedule.
But the frost took its toll, and even with significant new planting coming online the harvest would still end up short. Yet the silver lining was that the small crop would reach superb levels of concentration and the wines would show in their depth, richness, and structure. After such a crazy start, growers were relieved when July, August, and September turned out to be pretty uneventful, and conditions remained favorable through the end of harvest. Growers had the luxury of waiting to pick at optimum ripeness, and the result was a solid but small crop of superb wines.
Late bud break, 10 days earlier than normal
The worst frost in 30 years
Set heat records
Cool and foggy weather
Warm and dry
Before he died in 2009, after a long battle with cancer, Jim Richards was known as a down to earth, call-it-like-you-see-it type guy. While living in Texas, he and his wife, Barbara, had caught the wine bug and decided to move to Napa Valley to follow their dreams. In 1983 they bought a choice, 20-acre property at the top of Spring Mountain, and planted 15 acres with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. What followed were some of the best Merlots California had to offer. Although Jim has since passed, the Richards still have a rabid following among those who prize sweetness of fruit, creamy texture and plenty of spicy oak. Sheldon, Jim's son, now works alongside his mom in the vines and in the cellar, carrying on the work, and good reputation of his dad's vineyard.