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Napa Valley’s 2021 vintage

Napa Valley’s 2021 vintage was so great, you could just feel the excitement all over the valley. That said, it was not without some challenges.

The year started off gently with sunny skies and a warm spring. But as the spring wore on with little rain, it became clear that 2021 would be a pretty severe drought year. According to viticulturist Rory Williams of Frog’s Leap and Tres Sabores wineries, such low rainfall hadn’t been seen since the mid 1970s.

The drought in turn meant that there weren’t many clusters. In parts of the valley, the crop was down by 20-60 percent. But the small crop also had a silver lining. Said Phillip Corallo-Titus winemaker at Chappellet, “While the crop was down, the concentration was through the roof. The berries were tiny and packed with color, tannin, and flavor.”

As the dry but beautifully sunny summer continued, winemakers prepared for what a lightened crop load would mean. “For earlier ripening sites on hillsides or with limited soil water, ripening trended even earlier than normal,” said Philippe Melka, winemaking consultant to several Napa Valley wineries and co-owner of Melka Estates. “Sites with heavier, cooler, clay-laden soils prepared for a later harvest.”

But, with the memory of the difficult 2020 vintage still fresh in their minds, vintners were holding their breaths. As the valley inched closer and closer to the harvest, everyone in the valley was on pins and needles.

This time, Nature was kind. The valley drifted into a gentle, cool, beautiful fall. The weather was sensational. The grapes were in perfect condition. The mood all over the valley was joyous. Said Williams, “The wines are extremely powerful and intensely flavored. We’re extremely excited about them.”

Corallo-Titus agreed. “There is a sense that wines like the 2021s can only be made from rare vintages,” he said. “I'm sure they will be long lived and collectable for people who appreciate concentration and structure. I believe there will be rewards from this vintage for decades to come.”

My preliminary tastings reveal quite majestic wines with huge structures wrapped around a core of lovely dense fruit. These are wines that will indeed evolve and unfurl themselves over decades. I think they’ll reveal their complexity slowly and beautifully.