2015 Vintage – Monte Bello Winery
The vines enjoyed a growing season gentler than the prior three. Although short on rainfall—and a continuation into the fourth year of drought—there was some rain in late spring. Cover crops, crucial for providing nutrients, grew well, imparting greater health to the vines. While the May rains were welcome, flowering was disrupted, causing poor fruit set in many blocks. Average summer temperatures at Monte Bello fell below normal; summer fog kept the nights cool. Once veraison was complete, we assessed the crop, and did minor thinning in the three petit verdot parcels. August’s warm weather pushed ripeness along.
A small test-pick of a young chardonnay parcel showed flavors developing at lower brix, and we quickly harvested the twelve remaining lots. (The timing was ideal: red fermentations would finish soon, and the presses would be needed.) Within a week of barreling down the chardonnay juice, natural yeasts began fermenting, filling the room with a magnificent apple- and pear-like aroma. Now that most lots are dry, we have tasted through the cellar; the vintage looks promising. Through next summer, the barrels will be “worked” (lees stirred and topped off every few weeks). As the wines age out, there will be considerable change to texture and complexity. Next August, we will taste and determine the assemblage.
Zinfandel’s early harvest allowed us to finish picking Geyserville grapes by September 9. Again, timing was ideal: the crush equipment could be reconfigured for sorting Monte Bello fruit. After several years of overlap between varietals, this better separation between zinfandel and cabernet harvest dates permitted the majority of Monte Bello parcels to be sorted. This was important, for we were able to remove the unusually high percentage of green/immature “shot” berries—a result of the disrupted flowering. Summer weather fluctuated wildly between hot and cold. Overall, temperatures were below average in this vintage. The most important heat, as far as flavor and tannin development were concerned, came in September. As in summer, the September heat waves were short-lived and followed by cool weather, giving the vines recovery time.
Unlike the past three Monte Bello vintages, when we faced the threat of rapid sugar development, ripening in 2015 was more gradual, and harvest slower-paced. This gave us time to thoroughly separate each vineyard parcel’s high- and low-vigor areas for selective picking. In total, we fermented forty-six small lots, ranging in size from two to nine barrels. All four varieties fermented out beautifully, and produced great quality. In particular, petit verdot came back strong from a challenging 2014, and produced the most opaque wines of 2015. There are no surprises with the parcels that typically make up Monte Bello; they all have distinct vineyard character, and should make the selection. A couple of young-vine parcels are coming up in quality, and have started to show Monte Bello character. In January, once all the barrels have finished natural malolactic fermentation, blind tasting will begin for the first assemblage. Comparing growing seasons and wine character, 2015 is shaping up as very similar to 1995, which remains one of the finest vintages of that decade.
November 11, 2015
Lytton Springs / Sonoma County
Due to a very mild winter with little rain, budbreak was early at Lytton Springs. Cool spring weather created unfavorable conditions for bloom, and reduced yields—especially in zinfandel. This resulted in our earliest harvest ever. We began picking at East Bench on August 12, and continued harvesting at a steady pace for the next four weeks, finishing September 14. Natural-yeast fermentations started by day two. Though the grapes were fully ripe, sugar levels in the must were moderate enough for the wines to ferment dry within ten days. Natural malolactic followed soon thereafter.
Concentration of color and flavor with perfectly balanced acidity is the predominant theme for 2015 in Sonoma. While quantity is down by an average of 25%, quality is high across the board. These are wines to look forward to.
October 28, 2015
To see photos from our harvest at Lytton Springs, click here.