The 2018 Napa harvest ended on a high note this fall. Most winemakers across the region are reporting superb grape quality, high yields, and low sugar concentration in the fruit. Hudson Vineyards director Kelly MacLeod says, “This year, it really was a winemaker’s dream. They got to consciously choose exactly what they wanted.” While it’s still too early to tell how these wines will develop over time, all of these factors could result in a collectible, age-worthy vintage. If you’re looking for flavorful New-World wines that are well-balanced with comparatively restrained alcohol, the 2018 vintage may be your dream year, too.
A Cool Growing Season Benefited the 2018 Napa Harvest
What led to such a successful 2018 Napa harvest? Winemakers credit cool, predictable weather conditions throughout the spring and summer. In February, the soil soaked up plenty of rain, and as a result, underground water was readily available to the rootstock throughout the spring. This allowed buds to break right on time. From May through August, temperatures in Napa were cooler than usual, but the fruit was also exposed to plenty of sunshine, ripening the grapes slowly but fully. There were no heat waves to speak of in the summer, and grapes developed less sugar concentration than usual. In fact, the grapes grew so slowly and evenly that many winemakers chose to push their harvests as much as three weeks later than usual. Winemaker Kristin Belair says, “Cooler seasons like this one often try our patience, but this year has proved to be well worth the wait.”
What Belair means is that 2018 Napa grapes have complex flavor development, deep coloration, and a perfect balance between acidity and sugar. This will be especially apparent in Cabernet Sauvignon this year, as the variety typically thrives under these conditions. Some of the best Napa Cabernet wines in history developed under similar growing conditions; cool, even temperatures coupled with a longer hang time often make for a well-balanced, complex vintage. However, Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t the only variety that benefited from this season’s perfect weather. Zinfandel grapes are also showing great depth of flavor, as are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. You can expect to see wines that are acidic, bright, and fresh, with promising aging potential.
The Most Successful American Viticultural Areas (AVAs)
Nearly every AVA in Napa had a successful harvest this year. Across the region, yields were up by two percent compared to 2017, and this bountiful harvest gave winemakers the opportunity to select only the finest grapes from the crop. On a drive through Napa Valley in early October, I noticed that many of the vines still had grapes on them–especially thick-skinned grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemakers didn’t have to cope with fall hail or rainstorms, so they could afford to leave the grapes on the vine longer than usual and harvest carefully, taking their time. Here are some of the most notable Napa AVAs that experienced an excellent harvest season:
- Oakville: Sauvignon Blanc from this area is especially well-balanced this year, but you will also find plenty of complex, ripe red varieties. Some of the best producers include Screaming Eagle and Schrader.
- Howell Mountain: Sugar concentration is higher on the northern side of the AVA, but all of the grapes grown in this area still have excellent acidity and freshness. Dunn and Abreu are reporting grapes of supreme quality this year.
- St. Helena: Producers from this AVA allowed their grapes to hang on the vine for a very long period of time, so expect soft tannins, ripeness, and complexity in these wines. You’ll likely find fantastic Chardonnay from producers like Peter Michael in 2018.
- Diamond Mountain: In vineyards at high elevations, sugar concentration is low; producers on the lower slopes have slightly higher levels of sugar in their Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Diamond Creek usually makes wines of fine quality in years when temperatures are fairly cool.
- Stags Leap District: Some producers in this AVA chose to harvest their grapes earlier than they were being harvested in other areas of Napa. This is because the grapes grown in this area had already reached perfect ripeness and didn’t require significantly more hang time. Shafer wines may be of especially high quality this year.
- Spring Mountain: Most producers in this area finished harvesting their white grapes in early fall, but let their red grapes stay on the vine for a few weeks longer to increase sugar levels. Robert Craig Cabernet Sauvignon may be exceptional in 2018.
- Carneros: A short bout of warmer weather in the fall prompted producers to begin harvest slightly earlier than other AVAs in Napa. The ripeness of the grapes is excellent, especially from producers like Paul Hobbs.
While the 2018 Napa growing season was on the cool side overall, each AVA experienced differences in weather and temperature which will affect the final wine. If you’re looking for the freshest, most acidic wines of 2018, seek out producers from Spring Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, and Oakville. If you prefer wines that are higher in sugar content and alcohol (but that still maintain plenty of acidity), then seek out 2018 wines from Carneros, Stags Leap, or St. Helena.
Tips on Investing in 2018 Napa Wine
Based on what we know about the immensely successful 2018 Napa harvest season, it should be easy to find top-quality wine when this vintage is eventually released. Not only will higher yields result in a greater number of bottles available on the market, but wines from the top producers are also expected to taste complex and well-balanced. While it’s too early to say what the 2018 vintage will taste like, based on weather conditions alone, the vintage may well be similar to 1985, 1994, and 1995, all excellent vintages. These three years were relatively cool and mild in the summer, which allowed the wine to develop fully. The freshness of wines from 1985 and 1994 in particular may offer you some insight into how the equally fresh 2018 vintage could mature over the decades.
As well as tasting some older Napa vintages with a growing season and harvest similar to that of 2018, you can also start budgeting for your 2018 futures and prearrivals now. When you sign up to become a private client with a wine retailer, you’ll get updates on the 2018 Napa vintage. To learn even more about the vintage’s release, sign up for newsletters from trustworthy wine market publications and get on the email list for your favorite Napa estates. It’s not often that winemakers experience such a perfect harvest season; do your prep work now to take advantage of the release of this unique vintage.
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