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Early returns reveal only so much, but as early returns go, many of the 2001 Napa Valley Cabernets look mighty promising. Among the words out of winemakers' mouths: "incredible color," "ripe, soft tannins" and "fantastic flavors."
"I'm very excited about what I've got, and I know that other people are too," said Charles Thomas, winemaker at Cardinale in Oakville. "At this point, one has to be cautiously exuberant. It's just a question of making sure the depth and complexity I think is there comes through."
Despite a tumultuous growing season that included a severe frost and intermittent hot and cool stretches, patient winemakers say they were able to harvest grapes in nearly ideal conditions. They expect unusually dark Cabernets of notable power and richness, with yields within vineyards ranging from average to about 25 percent short.
"Today I was racking some of the hillside [Cabernet plots] and saying this is 1997 again," commented Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards in the Stags Leap District, who described the wines as "ripe and voluptuous." Other producers also noted the similarity to the superb 1997 vintage.
Bob Foley, winemaker at Pride Mountain Vineyards on Spring Mountain, began and finished harvest this year on identical days to 1997. "It's at an early stage, but I'm seeing the best wines this ranch has produced," he said.
Patience was key this year because many grapes had unusually high sugar levels before flavors and tannins were optimum. Heat spells --which dehydrate grapes, thereby increasing sugar measurements --might have encouraged some wineries to pick too soon. Vintners who jumped the gun might find that their Cabernets have impressive color and high alcohol, but rough tannins and underripe flavors.
Those estates with the experience -- and stomach -- to wait were rewarded with cooler conditions in September that allowed greater flavor development. Winemakers anticipate a full-throttle style of Napa Cabernet, with ample, ripe tannins, plenty of alcohol and concentrated flavors.