Harvest 2018: USA
The wildfires of 2017, and the previous years of drought, have given the US wine industry their fair share of challenges. It’s therefore no surprise that 2018 has been a welcome relief for American, and especially Californian, wine producers.
A dry, warm summer has been typically followed by a cooler autumn, allowing for a long ripening period and good quantities of high-quality grapes. Yields across California have beaten 2013’s bumper year, with an impressive 4.3 million tonnes* of grapes being harvested.
Bibendum buyer for the USA Paul Meihuizen speaks highly of the harvest and the potential of the wines so far. “The grapes are in and everyone is very excited about what they have delivered,” he says. “This is a great year, not only for volume but also quality, with the longer and cooler growing season producing some fantastic quality fruit.”
Here’s a round-up of the 2018 harvest from some of our producers:
2018 has brought Dry Creek Vineyard any wine producer’s dream – both quality and quantity.
Kim Stare Wallace, the winery president, explains: “Quantity is up in general this year because of more moderate weather; a lack of significant heat events has led to less water demands by the vines. It seemed to especially allow for some full bunches in Sauvignon Blanc and the overall quality for the whites has been excellent.”
The reds are developing well too. “So far, our Zinfandels in tank have some bright cherry aromas and spice notes, and some are already deeply-coloured,” she says. “Our Bordeaux varietals across the board have a deep, beautiful colour and wonderful richness at this point as well. Because of the cooler overall weather during ripening we’ve seen good acids in the reds, and the longer hang time has allowed the Bordeaux varietals to mature and develop complex flavours.”
Carneros, Napa Valley
Anthony Truchard, general manager and owner of Truchard Vineyards, is positive about 2018. “This harvest has been one of the dream harvests of Napa Valley. We have had a dry summer with very little rain, but thankfully no big heat spells to dehydrate the crop. The harvest was about two weeks later than normal, and we finished picking Cabernet Sauvignon, the last grape to be picked, on 14 November.”
With yields about 15% higher than usual, Truchard are seeing great potential in the wines. Extended time on the vine has softened the tannins, and the early signs are suggesting a year of “great aromatics, higher acids, freshness and clean flavours,” according to Anthony.
Russian River, Sonoma
“2018 was early to bud break and late to harvest. This provided a very long growing season, which historically means the skins are thicker and the resulting wine is richer,” says owner and winemaker, Stephen Hansel.
Aside from needing to navigate heavy rain in October, Sonoma County producers enjoyed a long stretch of warmth and dryness with resulting yields of various sizes, but high quality. For Walter Hansel, yields of Chardonnay were up while Pinot Noir quantities were consistent with previous years.
Stephen Hansel reports: “We began harvest on 15 September; this was three weeks earlier than the last few years, but only a few days later than what was normal five to 10 years ago.” With initial fermentations complete, the malolactic fermentations are on track to complete by Christmas.
“All in all, I think 2018 will be a world class vintage,” he says.
Spring and summer were hot in Oregon, but a remarkably cool autumn, and large diurnal swings, allowed the grapes to ripen extensively without added weather pressures. Michael Davies, executive winemaker at A to Z, reports with delight that “we had winemakers getting home in the evening in time to say goodnight to their children, and vineyard workers who could ‘pace themselves’ through an extended period, so as not to lose heart or health.”
The Oregon harvest was kind in more ways than one. “The fruit and resulting wines have wonderful freshness and intensity while being balanced, succulent and generous,” he says. “Yields were moderate, and the smaller berries afforded easy extraction of colour, tannins and flavours.”
With minimal disease pressure, high quality yields and wines that are already “lip-smackingly good in their youth,” it’s no wonder A to Z are seeing this as a harvest to remember.
Charles Smith experienced a warmer than usual spring this year, leading to an earlier budbreak and a warm summer. Cooler autumn temperatures allowed for a longer ripening period, and therefore extended time for the grapes to develop. While rainy spells occurred across October, their head of winemaking Megan Schofield reports that “the fruit held up well and continues to be of great quality as it comes in.”
“The 2018 vintage so far has been showing excellent quality – ripe fruit flavours, excellent balance of acidity and great texture on the palate,” she says.
This year saw a prolonged winter and late spring at Forge Cellars, with warm temperatures to begin the summer. Drought in late July and early August was swiftly followed by rainstorms; luckily, the vineyards at Forge Cellars managed to escape the worst of the damage.
Vineyard general manager Rick Rainey stresses the importance of discipline this year. "We knew that we must be diligent with our picking due to the disease pressure from the late summer months," he says. Unhealthy clusters of grapes were left on the vine, and rigorous hand-sorting was carried out in the winery, to preserve the overall quality of the wines. "This is a standard procedure for us in every vintage," says Rick, "but this year it was absolutely crucial."
With their sharp attention and constant monitoring, Forge Cellars are optimistic about the wines they'll produce. "They'll be fragrant, charming wines - these are the kind of wines we love to drink," finishes Rick.