The weather we experienced during the 1998 growing season can best be summed up in one name, el niño. From bud-break through bloom, or from March through the middle of June, the effects of the tropical warming of Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of northern California, the el niño effect caused Napa Valley vineyards to be unseasonably cold and wet. Two brief periods in mid-July and again in mid-August, however, saw the vineyards sweltering in 100-degree temperatures! Such extremes in weather influenced the 1998 grape crop in two ways: they reduced crop size and delayed overall ripening by three to four weeks. A very favorable result, though, was the relatively small berry sizes, which correspondingly increased skin-to-juice ratios, intensifying in turn overall wine grape flavors. Finally, just about the time that we were beginning to worry about rains arriving, the "October Miracle" occurred--an "Indian summer" weather pattern of warm days and cool nights that turned the 1998 harvest into a great vintage.
In producing our Merlot, we employed several traditional as well as innovative techniques to achieve a dark full color and excellent fresh and fruity varietal flavors, but without harsh tannins. First, before fermentation got underway, we allowed the merlot juice and skins to "soak" at cool temperatures; "cold-soaking" benefits the wine by intensifying both its color and flavors. Next, during the initial stages of fermentation, we aerated the must by draining it out of the stainless steel fermenters and then returning it: a process we call "rack and return;" this technique helps smooth-out the tannins in the wine.
Characteristic of Cakebread's Merlots, the 1998's dark garnet color matches its rich fruit. Subtle aromas of black tea leaves, dried herbs and vanillin are followed on the palate by fresh plum and cherry-like flavors, which end with just a touch of French oak. As with all our wines, this Merlot is ready for dinner tonight, but it will continue to develop complexity over the next 3-5 years.
Total Acidity: 0.62g/100ml
Residual Sugar: 0.05g/100ml