WINE HARVEST AND VINTAGE QUALITY 2019
BY MATTHEW BROWMAN
From the sources’ mouths
With the 2019 Northern Hemisphere harvest in the books (or barrels), we asked some of our wineries to gauge the vintage. With wine harvest and vintage quality, every season brings a different design of roller coaster: some are gentle and steady while others go drastically up and down. Some go nice and easy throughout only to plummet at the end. Or, they start wild and finish smooth.
Napa Vintage— striking gold
With its broad range of mesoclimates, you can’t generalize about Napa. Its valley floor vineyards can be similar up and down the funnel. But, once you get into the mountains and hillsides, all bets are off. Different elevations, soil profiles, and aspects affect the fruit. More often than not, the wines are more structured than their valley-floor counterparts.
Vineyard 7 & 8 is on Spring Mountain in Napa’s northwest corner. If you drive down the other side (which we highly recommend—it’s one of the most beautiful roads on earth), you end up in Sonoma. Other notable wineries from this ultra-premium district include Pride and Paloma.
According to Wesley Steffens, estate director & associate winemaker at 7 & 8,
the 2019 growing season was wonderful. One that.. we believe… will go down as a magnificent year both in terms of quality and quantity
Well, that’s a promising start. The region has been in drought for a few years, so a wet and cold winter brought some welcome moisture which eventually lead to higher growth and a sizeable crop.
The warm, even summer (with a couple of short heat spikes) and fall allowed the Chardonnay to show “beautiful fruit that allowed us the chance to craft some beautiful wines to play with in barrel”. And for the Cabernet, the “flavors and concentration in the fruit [and] the development of the tannins [are] all truly spectacular.”
Sonoma Harvest—in the sweet spot
Eric Sussman of Radio-Coteau explains that the vintage fell right between the heat spike of 2017 and the cooler temperatures of 2018. This points to “a classic coastal California vintage with noble structure, vibrant fruit character and ageability – a dynamic vintage showing much promise.”
Even though late May rain pushed fruit set back (and therefore, the potential for a later harvest bringing the risk of bad weather), steady moderate heat settled in through summer and fall.
The Veneto, Valpolicella 2019—best in decades
This region in Northeast Italy where Amarone, Ripasso, and Valpolicella come from also has both valley and hillside vineyards. A wet and rainy spring meant some mildew on the valley floor, but hillside vineyards flourished. At Ca’ La Bionda, Alessandro Castellani says the summer was “not too warm or too dry”. This produced grapes that “were perfectly ripened with nice acidity… sweet and long tannins, and noble in the taste.”
Indeed, he says, “It is the best vintage of the last 20 years”.
Canada Quality—cross-country challenges
Remember that the seasons’ weather affects character, but the quality is subjective and situation-specific. That may sound like an ominous caveat to open this 2019 wine harvest and vintage quality report with, and you have to remember who is reporting it. Winemakers and winegrower bodies will generally spin what looks bad as positive. But also remember that they understand not only how grapes and the resultant wines respond to conditions, but also the range of wine styles in the world and what each is suited to. Lighter, fresher wine has as much a place as deeper, richer wine. You just have to know the situation.
Niagara — it depends on your taste in roller coasters
According to the VQA report, while Ontario saw cool, wet conditions in both the spring and fall, it nonetheless claims that “overall the season was good” due to a warm summer. We interpret that generously as a “challenging” year.
But we also acknowledge that those with skill and good sites will produce wines with focused acidity, bright primary fruit, and early-drinking food-friendliness. It also means that white wines and lighter reds like Gamay and Pinot Noir can be fantastically alive.
At Malivoire Wine Company in Beamsville, winemaker Shiraz Mottiar admits that “the vintage was exceptionally cool, with quite a bit of moisture… [so that] overall, high acids will define the vintage.” However, with the “grapes… staying on the vine longer… [they developed] lovely fruit intensity.” The still better news is that,
Sparkling will be a hit, as will our rose’s, gamays, pinot gris and chardonnay.
Early January warmth followed by a February frost damaged buds, meaning less fruit so lower yields. Then, a warm summer with no heat-spikes combined with those low yields promised outstanding quality fruit.
Then the coaster plummeted. Cool, wet weather from mid-September on meant serious effort, some patience, and fast-draining, warm sites to prevent rot and manage dilution. Overall, Naramata wines will be medium-bodied with bright acidity and high tannin. Indeed, according to Jay Drysdale at Bella Sparkling Wines, it was “one of the rainiest Septembers we have seen”.
Nonetheless, Jay is “excited with the flavours and personalities starting to emerge from the wines.” As a sparkling wine producer, his optimism isn’t misplaced. Sparkling wines are typically harvested earlier than still table wines to retain higher acidity and keep the alcohol levels lower. Bella started harvesting on August 29, two weeks before the rain started.
2019, Alessandra Castellani, Amarone, Bella Wines, Ca’ La Bionda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Canada, Chardonnay, Eric Sussman, Gamay, harvest, Jay Drysdale, Malivoire, Mottiar, Napa, Naramata, Niagara, Okanagan, Paloma, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Pride, Radio-Coteau, Riesling, Ripasso, Shiraz, Sonoma, sparkling wine, Spring Mountain, Syrah, Valpolicella, Veneto, Vineyard 7 & 8, vintage, VQA, Wesley Steffens