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.