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
Set up by Moet-Hennessy in the 1970s, Domaine Chandon was the first California sparkling-wine specialist established by a French house using traditional Champagne methods. Traditional grapes too: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are harvested from 1000 acres in Yountville, Carneros and Mount Veeder. The resulting wines are generally refreshing and on the dry side by California standards, with soft finishes. Recent releases appear to be a bit more complex and less austere than earlier bottlings. The Etoile, a blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir, spends at least five years on its lees.