The 2019 vintage in Napa produced a brace of fantastic wines that are classical expressions of California’s heartland. We talk to top producers about the year and the style of wines it produced
Following on from the cooler, elegant 2018 vintage, 2019 is another excellent year for Napa – together forming an impressive duo that will be enjoyed (and inevitably compared) over the coming decades.
The preceding winter was wet, replenishing the water table and encouraging vigorous early growth. Indeed, as Danielle Aita at Colgin noted, it was still raining in May – with almost 2.5 inches that month (compared to 0.3 inches in 2018, and 0.61 in 2020). It was important for this vigor to be managed, for vines were at risk of growing more fruit than they could ripen. Aita explained how their team had to thin even more than normal, even thinning clusters by removing individual berries to maximize airflow.
A mild spring led to a warm and even summer, with few heat spikes, allowing producers to take their time to harvest, allowing for traditionally long hangtime. Although the season didn’t see the extremes of 2020 or 2022, the mercury did fluctuate, Kassidy Harris at Dominus noted – with a hot June, cooler July, then warmer end to the season. She noted how it required more intervention from the team in the vineyard, managing yield – particularly dropping “wings” or “shoulders” off clusters. This prolonged, relatively gentle heat, as the Dana team highlighted, mellowed the acidity and brought a roundness to the wines.
For Cathy Corison, it was “a fabulous vintage – almost perfect”, and one major factor was the even temperatures, with a significant diurnal shift that encouraged aromatic finesse and retained freshness. She reported temperatures in August that were 70-75˚F during the day, and dipping below 50˚F at night. With these gentle conditions, she picked later than normal, in the third week of September.
Maya Dalla Valle started picking around the same time, emphasizing how it’s the last vintage she can remember being able to take her time with – the harvest stretching over several weeks rather than needing to get the fruit in as soon as possible. Aita highlighted how in early October, the temperature dropped significantly at night, slowing the ripening, and they picked in the second and third week of the month.
Temperatures were, on average, a little higher than 2018 – leading to a richer style, darker fruit profile and softer tannin structure – wines that are more classically Napa, compared to 2018’s slight Old World slant. They still, however, have a vibrancy and freshness, and while alcohol levels are higher than 2018, they are not elevated for the region, with almost all sitting below 15%. Volumes are generally good, thanks to that wet winter, a comfort given the low yields of 2020 and 2021.
As Corison noted, “When a vintage is perfect, it’s like falling off a log. Great grapes make great wine.” The winemaker’s job in a vintage like 2022, she says, is to “try not to mess it up”. Dalla Valle opted for shorter maceration times, finding the ripe, thick-skinned grapes offered tannin, color and flavor quickly. She notes how the wines have filled out with time, offering a “quiet power” that she loves. For Harris at Dominus, it’s a very good vintage, but just an edge behind 2018, not quite as integrated in her view.
Will Harlan and Cory Empting at Promontory compare it to 1990, feeling it has more flesh and power versus 2018, needing time to reveal itself – “an old soul” of a vintage. For Aita at Colgin, the wines have minerality and real expression of place. They are much more approachable than 2018 in their youth, yet have everything needed to go the distance.
The critics all agree that it’s another very good vintage, but are divided as to whether they prefer 2018 or 2019. For Vinous’s Antonio Galloni, the 2019s are “big, bold wines that show the extroverted side of Napa Valley”. He feels it doesn’t quite have the consistency of a truly great year, such as 2018, with that vintage also offering a little more freshness that he prefers.
Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW (then still writing for the Wine Advocate) finds 2019 “classic, ripe, plush and beautifully expressive”, feeling – unlike Galloni – that it is more consistent than 2018, both in quality and volumes. For her, the 2018s are more structured with higher acidity, and may well age longer than the 2019s, however the 2019s have a generosity that is more typically Napa – and possibly more inviting.
For Jeb Dunnuck, it’s “another terrific year“ for Napa – “ripe, supple tannins, beautiful sweetness of fruit, and undeniably delicious”. He argues that it is clearly an excellent vintage, but doesn’t quite reach the levels of 2016 or 2013.
The vintage in brief
– A wet winter and long, gentle growing season without major heat spikes
– High yields and quality, with a prolonged harvest period
– Warmer than 2018 producing richer wines with darker fruit and softer tannins
– Wines that are classical Napa
– Polished and plush, yet with freshness and alcohol levels generally sitting below 15%