Another brilliant year for Washington State, the 2016 vintage started out even earlier than 2015 (which was one of the earliest on record) with bud break occurring in the middle of May, upwards of two weeks ahead of average. Scorching temperatures in April and May put the vintage on track to surpass 2015 as the warmest on record. However, the weather pattern shifted in June with cooler, even temperatures for the summer months. A rain shower early in October was the only blip in a cool, even Indian Summer that persisted through November, which allowed a prolonged yet stress-free harvest.
The key factors to understating the vintage are:
1) A very warm April, May, and early June resulted in a larger crop set, both in terms of the number of clusters as well as the size of the berries. The vintage produced a record-setting crop for Washington State.
2) The cooler than average temperatures spanning the summer months and through November meant that the grapes had ample hangtime and phenolic ripeness at harvest, yet also ripened under cooler than average temperature.
The large crop, cooler overall temperatures, and ample hangtime all resulted in wines that have more medium to full-bodied profiles (larger yields), beautiful freshness and purity of aromas, and ripe, polished tannins (long hangtime and cooler temperatures).
The larger yields had little effect on the Bordeaux varieties, which seem to have no issues being cropped at higher yields, yet I found many Syrah and Grenache releases (which are more yield dependent) lacking concentration and density. Nevertheless, there are plenty of brilliant wines, and some of the highest rates wines in the report are Syrahs.
I’ll focus on 2017 vintage next year, but at a high level, 2017 appears to be slightly behind 2016 in terms of quality and consistency. Weather-wise, it was the opposite of 2016 with a cooler, wetter winter and spring that resulted in a late start to the year. However, yields were better managed, and the overall berry size was smaller than in 2016. The summer months were scorching hot, but ample lower atmospheric smoke from massive fires in California and Oregon blocked a portion of the UV light and kept temperatures down, slowed ripening, and delayed harvest. The smoke was too high to cause any smoke taint issues, and the result was a vintage with good hangtime (it was a very prolonged harvest) and wines showing sunny, perfumed characters.
All these wines were tasted early in February 2019 followed by numerous follow up tasting at my office in Colorado.