2013 Napa Vintage Review

Wow, is this late! Hi! And sorry for being MIA.

After an “average” quality vintage in 2010, a “poor” 2011 and a “classic” 2012, most of us in Napa were hoping for another winner in 2013. The last time I think Napa had back to back great vintages was probably 1994-1995 and 2001-2002. Well, we got what we hoped for, and then some.

2013 will probably go down as the greatest vintage of all time for Napa Cab, eclipsing 2012 by quite a margin, which is really saying something. At the very minimum, it will join 1991 and 1974 as the greatest. But in the end, it will probably go down as the GOAT.

2013 is to 2012, what 2002 was to 2001.

2001 was a classic year of moderate power, great balance, good structure and tannins to age a long time. 2002 was lusher, more fruit forward and bigger. Originally thought to be less age-able than 2001, it seems to be proving its equal in that regard. I think 2001 has the slight edge but am increasingly in the minority, there. 2012 has moderate intensity, good structure and classic build, like 2001. 2013 is like 2002 on crack. Lush, velvety, hedonistic as you can imagine. And with shockingly large acid strength for its ripeness level. Much like 2012, the wines made themselves and you had a very large fruit picking window.

Also, every single part of Napa did great in 2013, from Calistoga to the southern parts, the floor to the mountains. The cooler spots, Stags Leap and Coombsville, just killed it. Most high end Cabs of the $100+ variety picked at 26-27.5 brix (15.3-16.2% alc) and then did substantial bleeds and water backs to reach a fermentable level. Not much acid if any were needed to be added because of the potent amount that somehow hung around through the brix rise. There have been some reports of elevated VA and some incomplete fermentations, but not many. Many wineries were forced to wait for tank space to open up, like 2012. And there was a severe shortage of new barrels. Many, many wines were put into used oak, awaiting extra new oak to arrive in November, and then racked into it at the first racking.

I originally did not think the grapes tasted quite as good on the vine as they did in 2012, although it was obvious we had a big winner. It was only after the wines were in barrel a month or two that everyone started to see what we really had, one for the ages. The wines are already sucking up the oak and the fruit is expressing itself amazingly well for this stage. And there was a lot of wine made. Most well-run Cab vineyards exceeded 4 tons per acre for the second straight year, again putting to rest the notion that very low yields are required for quality. Simply ain’t so. There will be a lot of wine to go around.

Also, as I understand it, Bordeaux did not really excel in either 2012-2013, so Napa Cab is about to have a brief period where it will be able to gain a brand foothold, after BDX’s great run in 2009-2010.

Get ready folks, once the drumbeat starts for 2013, it will become a stampede. The good news is that even $40-50 wines will probably be excellent in this vintage. True also of 2012. So there will be lots of choice for buyers.

nice. can’t wait to visit next month, maybe try some 2013’s in barrel! Can i try Piper cellars?! :smiley:

I thought you liked to take your own wine when you visited Napa [wink.gif]

Thanks for the report Roy. [cheers.gif]

Great job Roy - a very exciting report!

Thank you for posting this! I’m very excited for these 2 vintages!

Hi Roy -

Thanks for the fine comparative review. While I do not buy many Cali Cabs, just a few here and there, sounds like 2012 will be a vintage for me over 2013.

For the laypeople around here (i.e., me), can you explain this process of “bleeds and water backs”?

Grapes that are picked at a higher brix level tend to have lower acidity (although Roy seems to say this as not a problem in 2013) and much higher alcohol. Many winemakers that pick at these levels “water back” (aka add water) to the wine to reduce the alcohol concentration in the final product.

Bleeding a red wine in tank will decrease the amount of juice in the must, causing a more concentrated and intense red wine.

Thanks Roy
Sounds great & very exciting vintages!

oh boy-there goes the budget. Thanks I guess.

To add, You almost have to ‘water back’ when you pick above a certain Brix (26+) because most yeast strain can’t handle that much sugar, they will die out before the wine ferments through. Watering back is controversial because it allows picked fruit at optimum ripeness and then the winemaker adjusting the wine once in the winery.

Thanks for the info Roy. I always enjoy your posts. Wonderful content.

I do love this…

To humor the less educated of us, why pick at a brix that’s that high? Why not sooner?

I wondered the same thing.

Will be in Napa for a week in May. Does anyone know of any tasting rooms that might share a barrel taste?

What are you, part of the AFWE crowd?!?!?!


If you want power, bold, thermonuclear you gotta pick high.

So that’s a good thing? [shock.gif]

Bump in hopes someone can answer Jeb’s question. Also if picked at say a point or two lower is it that significant a difference in taste? If not then why not pick earlier and have the benefit of lower alcohol and not having to do water backs.