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.
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