2003 Napa Valley Harvest Marked by Great Quality, Lower Quantity
Many Believe It Could Be One of the Decade's Best
11/4/2003 - St. Helena, CA, - The general consensus among Napa Valley vintners and growers is that the 2003 growing season is one they will not soon forget. Early rains and late heat spikes contributed to lower overall yields, but produced a vintage with high quality, great color concentration and intensity of flavors.
"I think when the story is written about the 2003 Napa Valley harvest we will see that the challenges presented this year by Mother Nature contributed to what most will agree is an excellent vintage," said Clay Gregory, president of the Napa Valley Vintners. "The yields are lower, but the quality is memorable."
The unpredictable nature of the 2003 growing season began with a couple of early heat spikes in March, followed by the wettest April on record.
According to Frank Leeds, director of vineyard operations at Frog's Leap and president of the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association, 2003 offered up the nastiest first half of spring he's ever seen.
"On the 14th of May, I would have said it was the 14th of April," Leeds said. "The vineyards just stalled in the cold weather and rain. We were a month behind. Then we broke into a typical, nice Napa Valley summer with a few high heat spikes."
The early rains appear to have affected Merlot the most.
"The vintage got a late start because of the cool, wet spring," said Bob Steinhauer of Beringer Vineyards and vice president of the NVV. "Overall, the weather conditions trended on the cool side, with a very damp April. A warm spell during flowering fueled a growth spurt in Merlot, which caused a poor set in some areas. The Merlot crop is small, and across other varietals, yields appear to be slightly below normal."
According to Leeds, Zinfandel produced the lightest bins he's picked in twenty years, but maybe some of the best quality. "The Zinfandel did not set well," Leeds said. "It shattered a little bit and had looser bunches that didn't fill up with as much moisture. But we had a much better pulp and skin to juice ratio, which should mean we're in for a great year for Zin."
Heat spikes in September helped move the harvest forward a bit after many felt it would be a late year. (click here to view the 2003 vintage chart - for growing season specifics)
"As the season progressed, it looked as if we were going to have a late harvest, but 8-10 very warm days in the middle of September helped push maturity in many varieties and we were suddenly predicting an early completion," Steinhauer continued. "The harvest time-frame became compressed, with multiple varieties coming into the winery at once."
Most Cabernet Sauvignon should be picked by the end of October. Many are expecting big, but balanced wines due to the high acid, high sugar and low ph. "2003 will always stay in my memory as a complex vintage to manage, the vintage of all efforts," said Peter Mondavi of Charles Krug. "The key to success has been in the management of the fruit in the vineyard. With that said, we are heading straight toward a great Cabernet Sauvignon vintage, perhaps the best in the last ten year."
The Chardonnay crop was down from the last few years, primarily as a result of spring shatter at set. "In spite of the very hot weather in August, our fruit was really extraordinary, with great number and intense flavors," said Peter McCrea, proprietor of Stony Hill Vineyard. "We will see in a year how that translates into wine."
What Vintners are Saying about the 2003 Harvest
"There have been more up's and down's than a Disneyland rollercoaster in 2003, but I'm smiling at the end of the ride. Basically a long cool summer has meant that the fruit flavors have evolved beautifully ahead of the sugar accumulation. Sure we had a little rain and a couple of uncharacteristic hot spells, but these weather patterns did not persist. I'm seeing beautiful white peach, pear and apple flavors in the Chardonnay and rich strawberry and white cherry flavors with our Pinot Noir. I'm especially excited by Chardonnay this year, so look out for a couple of killer Blanc de Blancs styles from the 2003 harvest."
-- Wayne Donaldson, Winemaker, Domaine Chandon
"In 20 years of winemaking I've never seen anything quite like 2003. Picking started off quickly - lots of tonnage coming in all at once - and then everything came to a screeching halt. I actually got to go to the beach last weekend, which never happens in the middle of harvest. I mean, it rates right up there with pigs flying.
Ultimately though this start-and-stop is great because lots of grapes are still on the vine gaining physiological ripeness and intensity of flavors. I expect to enjoy some excellent Napa Valley wines from this vintage."
-- Elias Fernandez, Winemaker, Shafer Vineyards
Following a very wet, rainy winter, our crop yields were lighter than usual because of small berry size as well the effects of shatter from spring wind and storms. However, long gentle ripening combined with small berry size should produce rich, intense wines in all categories."
-- Bob Long, Long Vineyards
"2003 has had an unusual and even strange weather pattern. The growing season had originally lowered my expectations for overall quality. But then, as we approached harvest, we saw outstanding balance in samplings as grapes ripened. Throughout crush, we have seen it all come together with remarkable flavor. I was prepared for a lesser vintage and found a great one. Go figure."
-- Mitch Cosentino, Founder and Executive Winemaker, Cosentino Signature Wineries
"Our quality is outstanding given the late spring and summer. Our Zin and Cab yields are much better than 2002; my team has done a great job for our second harvest together."
-- Laura Zahtila, President/Owner, Zahtila Vineyards
"Overall the vintage seems to have good flavors and consistent acidity level with a 40% down in quantity throughout all varietals in our hillside vineyards."
-- Delia Viader, Owner and Winemaker, Viader Vineyards & Winery
"We have not even picked one percent of our Mt. Veeder Vineyards yet and, with over 500 tons hanging, we have at least four weeks to go. The best grapes in Napa have not been picked yet!"
-- Richard Camera, Director, Vineyard Operations, The Hess Collection Winery
"A great year for the Napa Valley. Early rains and cool weather in April physiologically shut down our vines. Very warm months following produced intense fruit with great balance to the finish."
-- Fred Schweiger, Owner, Schweiger Vineyards
"What a wild ride! Rain in April, late onset of verasion, and it looked like everything would come in two weeks later than normal. Then a heat wave in September suddenly made everything ripe: Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cab all at the same time. I'm especially excited about the good color and extraction we have gotten this year."
-- Tim Bell, Winemaker, Freemark Abbey Winery
"The heat spikes toward the end of September were a scare that made us think we'd be forced to an early, unripe harvest. But with the moderate weather for the last three weeks, God has kissed this vintage on the lips."
-- Jac Cole, Winemaker, Spring Mountain Vineyard
"Spectacular October. Waiting was a virtue."
-- Scott McLeod, Director of Winemaking, Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery
"A protracted cool wet spring wreaked havoc with flowering, reducing yields in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir somewhat and in Merlot by half. Yields in Cabernet were similar to previous years. The late rains also contributed to vigorous vine growth that required extra canopy management. Despite the late start and late flowering, verasion ran close to typical timing, and harvest began within a few days of last year for each variety. Several weeks of warm weather with unusually warm nights early in grape development allowed the vines to catch up, something that rarely happens. After a warm jumpstart in August and early September, the temperatures turned cool, extending hang time and tannin maturation. Reciproc