In recent years, the news from the northern Bay Area wine country centered on one disaster or another threatening the quality of the year's grape crop. But this season, no news has been good news, and Napa winemakers are reporting that 2023 could be "the vintage of a lifetime."
It's quiet at the Seavey Vineyard winery above St. Helena. The harvest is over, and the wine sits in barrels, slowly transforming into what has been called "bottled poetry." But as serene as the process seems, over the last few years they've come to expect just about anything, Seavey's winemaker Jim Duane said.
"We never know what's coming until it's right on top of us," said Duane.
In 2021 the historic drought produced some high-quality grapes but not many of them so volumes were small. In the previous year, the Glass Fire broke out, filling the air in the vineyards with acrid smoke.
"We still had about 10 tons of grapes out on the vine," Duane said. "And that Glass Fire was just a couple miles north of here. So, that was so close that we lost those grapes."
And last year, some heat waves sped up the ripening process, forcing growers to rush to pick their crops early, affecting the taste of the wines. It's been one thing after another until this year.
Karen MacNeil, author of "The Wine Bible," said the season started out nicely but vintners were bracing for more heat spikes this year — But none came.
"By the end of August, ripeness was still tracking about two weeks later than usual. And still, the gentle weather continued: clear skies, cool sun, no heat domes, no fires, no rain," she said on her industry blog, WineSpeed. "You could feel the excitement all over the valley. When was the last time Napa grapes were picked in November."
Vintners said the extended "hang time" will allow the unique flavors of Napa wines to develop more fully. Simply put, the weather has been perfect. And MacNeil said it will be reflected in the quality of the year's product.
"I've no doubt that 2023 will go down as one of the most phenomenal vintages ever in the Napa Valley," she said.
"Yeah, at this point there's not a lot of doubt," said Duane. "There's just kind of an undercurrent of excitement for the wines that are going to be coming, that are on the way. I think they could potentially be … This 2023 could be the vintage of a lifetime"
And Duane said he feels a responsibility now that nature has supplied him with the perfect raw material.
"Yeah, it's absolutely my job not to mess this up. I'm kind of like a glorified babysitter at this point in time," he said, gesturing to the columns of wine-filled barrels. "I've got to keep the kids healthy and sleeping by the time the parents get home."
It will be three years before wine customers will get their first taste of this year's bounty. But winemakers are convinced it will be worth the wait.
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