1996 Calistoga Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon

A mild winter, untimely spring rains and intense summer heat created a very interesting growing season in 1996. The crop yields were significantly reduced by adverse weather conditions during bloom time. Wind, rain and heat were all factors that had an effect on the 1996 crop, with the heat being the chief grape killer. And then it stayed hot, and hooo-doggie, it was a habañero summer.

The first week of June was hotter than usual with several days over 100 degrees. June, July, and August all had periods of very hot weather with each month having at least 10 days of temperatures over 100 degrees. June had a high of 108, July had 5 days in the 105-108 degree range, and August had 4 days over 105 with 2 additional days over 110 degrees.

So we expected to just zoom into harvest. But happily the weather finally cooled down, and the periods of extreme temperatures, especially in August, had caused the vines to slow down the maturation process. The weather during harvest was quite good, even cool, with several stops to wait for grapes to get ready, i.e. warmer weather. This allowed the very small crop to ripen slowly. Harvest went very smoothly but was long and boring. It was sad - we would pick a ten-acre block and only fill one tank! [normally ten acres would fill 3 tanks]. Our anecdotal observation is the hot summer had some lingering effect in vine vigor being reduced by heat stress.

It was the lightest crop since 1987 and '88. The skin to juice ratio was very high so extraction was very good. Many tanks were colored almost black by day two. Our most recent similar vintages were 1987 and 1988, but the 1996 is most like the 1977 - not so extracted as the 1987 and less droughty than the '88. Although these comparisons mostly relate to the Montelena Estate Cab, we feel our Calistoga Cuvee, of any vintage, is understandably indicative of that vintage's red wines.

vintage weather

Hot. Average rainfall. Mild winter, untimely spring rains and intense summer heat resulted in low vineyard yields. Ripening weather in September-October was excellent. Lightest crop size since 1988, very high extraction and very concentrated juice.

tasting notes

In the glass it has a good deep color, all the way to the edge. Since it is a blend of several vineyards in our district we think it should demonstrate the tonal range of smells and flavors unique to this part of the Napa Valley. The nose is well-concentrated Cabernet fruit cassis with some black olive and even a bit of leather which all come together to make a spicy jam impression. The palate demonstrates how we make the Calistoga Cuvee easy to like, with soft round tannins that carry that jammy fruit melody and a nice rich extract, not too big. The jammy Cabernet and very earthy concentration reflect the very low yields of 1996. We think this wine will show very well and will benefit by further bottle aging.

Harvest Date September 6 to October 10
Sugar At Harvest 22.4° to 24.5° brix
Barrel Aging 12 to 16 months
Release Date September 1998
Alcohol 13.5%