That is it! Harvest is over and we brought the last of our fruit last week. Now it is time to reflect on the 2016 vintage that was. Qualifiers that come to mind are long, steady, uneventful, yuge.
2016 was a long vintage. It started really early with a warm spring with bringing record temperatures throughout the Northwest. You can see below the Growing Degree Day chart (2016 is the black line) for Prosser, WA and how the black line is way above anything we have seen in the past (there was also growing degrees in March that are not shown below). The temperatures never got really hot and so despite the early start of the season, harvest started around the same time as other warm years such as 2015. The black line on the chart below has a much “shallower” sigmoid curve than usual confirming an even accumulation in temperature. Because September and October were cool, the picking season was extended all the way to November making it one of the latest picking years for Cabernet Sauvignon in Washington State. Oregon was on a fast track with most of the fruit in the barn by late September, ahead of what has been a rainy October. Salem, in the heart of the Willamette Valley, had the rainiest October month on record with 11.23 inches for the month. Eastern Washington had much less rain under the protective shield of the Cascade Range and the coastal stormy conditions cooled down temperatures.
2016 has been a steady uneventful vintage. The temperatures during the summer never got too hot with very few heat spikes (though I have seen a fair amount of sunburn on exposed fruit). The nights never got too cold and did not threaten the ripening season with an early frost. The harvest was very orderly with fruit coming at a good pace with the luxury of being able to process without fear of over ripening, disease spreading or abrupt weather events (rain, frost). A lovely pace even though it seemed like it would never end.
2016 was Yuge (in so many ways, eh?). Crop loads are heavy – probably 15% above normal judging by our own data. The overage was unforeseen which made logistics hard and many wineries ran out of room and had to stretch their harvest which, as discussed above, was not a problem (thank you mother nature). It seems that berry growth was underestimated, possibly from the cooler conditions during summer applying little stress to the vines. The quality of the fruit did not suffer from the excess yield and this is one of those vintages proving that quality and quantity are not antithetical. Indeed, the cooler conditions provided the necessary hang time to mature tannins and aromatics fully and the lack of precipitation kept the fruit healthy, free of mildew and botrytis. We will make flavorful, vibrant wines in 2016. Since quantities are up consumers should feel happy that supply is plentiful which should tame prices and offer great values even at lower price points.
A toast to 2016. Be ready for a great vintage, full of intense fruit, focused and balanced. May be our best since 2010 – I will follow up with a note after we rate all our lots in December.