2018 May be a Perfect Vintage for Napa Valley and Sonoma County

by Fred Swan - Guest Blogger

Going to press in Carneros

Foudres of Pinot Noir pomace being tipped into the press at Artesa

2018 looks to be the best vintage for Napa Valley and Sonoma County in several years. Harvest is just about complete. Winemakers to whom I’ve spoken have been genuinely enthusiastic.

Weather was consistent, mostly dry and on the cool side. There were no long heat spells. This has lead to a long-growing season, the longest since at least 2012, with excellent retained acidity in both white and red wines. The alcohol levels in both will be moderate as well. And the long hang-time has brought excellent flavor development, without overripeness.

I visited winemaker Ana Diogo-Draper at Artesa on September 28. Pinot Noir harvest was in full swing, but far from done. “I think it’s going to be a Pinot year,” she told me. “It has really nice intensity and color with beautiful acidity.”

In the cool climate of Carneros, Some Chardonnay was still measuring total acidity of 9.5 grams per liter, more than 1.5 grams higher than one would start picking for still wines, and not much harvesting had taken place. This will be a fulfilling year for those folks always looking for “Burgundian Chardonnay” from the North Coast. Expect the wines to be fairly low in alcohol with medium body, vivid acidity and fruit flavors more tart than tropical. 

I tasted more than a dozen samples at Artesa. Some were freshly pressed Chardonnay juice, some in-process fermentations of Pinot and Tempranillo, some completed fermentations just beginning their maturation in oak or stainless. There was a mix of vineyards, clones and winemaking approaches. Each was distinct and delicious.

carneros pinot noir

This just-fermented 2018 Pinot Noir at Artesa was delicious, with excellent color, acidity and structure.

As of last Friday, almost all of Robert Mondavi Winery’s fruit was in, with a just a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon still on the vine. Their longtime director of winemaking, Genevieve Janssens, now in a consulting role there, is excited about the flavor and balance of the wines, and the elegance of their tannins.

The story is similar at other vineyards i’ve visited or communicated with, including Napa Valley, Sonoma Mountain, Russian River Valley or Dry Creek Valley. And I spent a day at the Manchester Ridge vineyard in the Mendocino Ridge AVA in mid-September. The Pinot and Chardonnay were still weeks away from harvest, but already tasted good and was carrying a lot of acidity.

Overall, you can expect wines of finesse. They’ll be juicy and complex on the palate. The drinking window will be long as the wines will be accessible almost immediately, but also have the acid, structure, and fruit for long-term aging.

There’s more good news. Yields are way up. This has meant a lot of long hours for harvest workers and winemakers. And wineries have been looking high and low for spare tanks and more barrels. But, in the end, there’s going to be a lot of great wine for us to enjoy.

It’s going to be a few years since any 2018s are released, but there’s plenty of excellent Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon from North Coast AVAs available now. There are some great options in-stock at JJ Buckley.

Sonoma County Pinot Noir

Sonoma County Chardonnay

Carneros Chardonnay

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

JJ Buckley guest blogger Fred Swan is a San Francisco-based wine writer, educator, and authority on California wines and wineries. His writing  appears in The Tasting Panel, SOMM Journal, GuildSomm.com, Daily.SevenFifty.com, PlanetGrape.com, and his own site, FredSwan.Wine (formerly NorCalWine). He teaches at the San Francisco Wine School. Fred’s certifications include WSET Diploma, Certified Sommelier, California Wine Appellation Specialist, Certified Specialist of Wine, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Professional, Napa Valley Wine Educator and Level 3 WSET Educator. He's twice been awarded a fellowship by the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.

Copyright JJ Buckley 2018.